For 1 hour, boy held in killing at Cheltenham detention center was not watched

By Ruben Castaneda
Saturday, August 21, 2010

The boy accused of killing a teacher at the Cheltenham Youth Facility in February was left unattended by staff members for an hour on the day of the slaying, according to a report released Friday by the inspector general of Maryland's Department of Juvenile Services.

Investigators believe that the youth beat and strangled Hannah Wheeling, 65, during that hour, police have said.

The report provides new details about the circumstances surrounding the slaying. Wheeling's body was found about 8 a.m. Feb. 18 outside the center's Murphy Cottage, which is just beyond the fence at the youth facility.

Last month, Prince George's County prosecutors charged a Cheltenham detainee -- who was 13 at the time of the killing -- with first-degree murder and attempted rape. Prosecutors have filed papers seeking to have the boy, who turned 14 in July, charged as an adult. A hearing on that issue is pending.

The inspector general's report says a Cheltenham staff member saw Wheeling inside a classroom about 4 p.m. Feb. 17. Wheeling appeared to be preparing to leave work, and the teenager was sitting in the back of the classroom.

The staff member observed Wheeling and the suspect while standing in a hallway between the classroom and a game room and was talking on his cellphone at the time, the report says. When the staff member finished his phone call, he went back into the game room, where he had been supervising 13 other youths, and left Wheeling alone with the boy, the report says.

Sometime between 4 and 4:10 p.m., Wheeling stepped into the game room and asked for a volunteer to clean the blackboard, the report says. A youth went into the room, cleaned the blackboard and returned to the game room about 10 minutes later, the report says.

About 5 p.m., a Cheltenham staff member saw the suspect near a stairway that leads to the classroom and the game room, the report says. The staff member said the boy was "sweaty, red faced, and seemed nervous," the report says. When the staff member asked him what he was doing there, he responded that he was "looking for Ms. Wheeling," the report says.

Staff members at Cheltenham are not supposed to leave detainees unsupervised, according to Department of Juvenile Services protocol. In March, officials announced that two staff members had been fired and three others had been disciplined for not following safety procedures on the day Wheeling was killed.

The report also says that about 11 p.m. Feb. 17, workers at Cheltenham realized that Wheeling's car was still in the parking lot, long after she should have left. A staff member checked the classroom and did not find Wheeling there, but no further action was taken to try to find her, the report says.

The inspector general's report also says that all Cheltenham staff members have been required to receive more than 22 hours of safety training from the Maryland Correctional Training Commission.

Asked to comment on the report, Jay Cleary, a spokesman for the Department of Juvenile Services, said, "We want to release this report to assure the public we've investigated the events of five months ago and we've already taken steps to ensure the safety of youths and staff at the Cheltenham facility."

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