D.C. teen who fled from BWI is latest to escape from city juvenile authorities

June 21, 2011

D.C. youth corrections officers were dispatched to Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport on Sunday afternoon to pick up a city teen who is facing assault charges and has a history of escaping from authorities.

But they arrived 15 minutes late. By the time they got there, Brandon Sparrow, 18, had run, making quick work of the guard from Utah who had escorted him on and off the plane.

Sparrow, who was caught Tuesday, is the latest D.C. youth to flee from juvenile justice authorities. The escape prompted finger pointing from the corrections union, outrage from a D.C. Council member and self-examination from the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), which vowed to change some policies and regulations.

“Arriving late under these circumstances cannot be justified,” said council member Jim Graham, (D-Ward 1), who oversees the department. “This appears to be a DYRS lapse. Why wasn’t this individual in restraints?”

Christopher Shorter, spokesman and chief of staff for Neil Stanley, interim DYRS director, said general practice is for officers to arrive 45 minutes early when picking up a detainee at an airport.

“But that is not formally in our transportation policy,” Shorter said. “This forces the agency to look at internal policy and protocols. It will be part of our written policy going forward.”

Sparrow, who was found in Southeast Washington on Tuesday morning by U.S. Marshals, was to be taken from the airport to New Beginnings, the secure facility in Laurel for D.C. youths.

Tasha Williams, chairwoman of the union that represents correctional officers at New Beginnings, said the supervisors who dispatched officers to the airport declined to send ones with expertise in transporting detainees.

“He’s a high-risk offender. He’s a flight risk,” Williams said. “Protocol is to send experienced transportation officers who would have been in place 45 minutes early.”

Williams said that the agency’s transportation coordinator was fired months ago and that the position remains vacant. She said there are only three officers who have expertise in detainee transport, and none of them was sent to the airport Sunday.

“This would not have happened if they sent people with the right training,” she said.

Shorter initially said the officers were late because the plane Sparrow was on had landed early.

The plane landed eight minutes early, at 4:15 p.m.

Sparrow was returning to the District from a treatment facility in Utah, where he had been placed by DYRS for several weeks.

Sparrow was due in court Monday for an arraignment in connection with a May 6 incident in which he is accused of using a broom to hit an officer at New Beginnings.

After he left the plane, he told the Utah officer who was escorting him that he needed to use the bathroom, Graham said. Then, he ran.

This was the second high-profile escape for Sparrow.

On April 20, Sparrow and three other detainees ran away from Palmetto Summerville Behavioral Health center in Summerville, S.C., a 60-bed DYRS placement facility. The center treats teens with sexually aggressive behavior, substance abuse problems and other behavioral issues.

He was caught the next day and sent to New Beginnings. Two weeks later, he was charged with assaulting an officer there. He then was sent to the Cottonwood Treatment Center, a secure psychiatric facility in Salt Lake City, for several weeks. The South Carolina escape came two days after a teen at New Beginnings attacked a guard, stole his keys, climbed the fence using a nearby ladder and escaped in the guard’s car.

Graham has introduced a bill that would allow for the public release of the name and photograph of any youth who escapes from a secure detention facility. The bill failed to pass a council vote several weeks ago as an emergency measure but is before the council.

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