A D.C. Superior Court judge has ordered an investigation into charges that staff members at the city's juvenile detention facilities physically abused some of the youths in their custody.
Judge Ricardo M. Urbina, who ordered the investigation, noted in the ruling that there is evidence of continued abuse by staff at the detention facilities known as Oak Hill, Oak Hill Annex and the Receiving Home since the signing of a consent decree in July 1986 that prohibited physical force except in self-defense.
According to a motion filed by the plaintiff, the Public Defender Service, youths at these facilities were being hit while shackled. The motion also cited a case in which a youth's right eye and right arm were swollen, allegedly as a result of being hit by a counselor. A youth allegedly was dragged and kicked by a counselor and a youth was allegedly hit with a brick and choked.
A monitor appointed by the court in 1986, who according to the judge's new order now becomes the "special master" charged with the investigation of abuse, has found that in addition to an increase in the number and reports of staff abuse, "at least one student was not taken to the medical clinic after staff used force." The monitor, Michael K. Lewis, also found that "staff use of alcohol on duty was reported to increase the incidence of abuse."
The court has issued seven orders because of these and other compliance problems in the last four years.
The investigation will entail taking testimony on the issue of physical abuse, setting a schedule for the plaintiffs and defendants to define issues and discover more information for their cases, and making recommendations and suggesting remedies, if necessary, to the court.
If the District does not meet its obligations in 90 days, the court will reconsider giving a special master broader responsibilities, according to the order, which was issued June 28.
The Public Defender Service filed a motion in March requesting the appointment of a special master with the power to conduct hearings, hire medical, mental health, environmental and other experts, develop detailed implementation plans and coordinate activities of the different government agencies responsible for youth services.
The judge's order will be "helpful in getting to allegations of staff abuse," said Claude Bailey, a spokesman for the D.C. corporation counsel. However, Bailey said that no decisions have been made on the charges.
The Public Defender Service said the judge's order brings it closer to the remedies it has been seeking for four years, which include education, medical care and suicide prevention in the juvenile detention facilities.