NYS OCFS: "A culture of brutality" at Tryon
According to a lawyer who has brought several cases against the State of New York, a recently issued U.S. Department of Justice report critical of four state-run juvenile detention facilities verifies within New York State Office of Children and Family Services (NYS OCFS) the existence of "a culture of brutality" at Tryon.
Elmer Robert Keach III represents the family of Darryl Thompson, who died in November 2006 after being restrained by two aides at the state-run Tryon Residential Center in Johnstown. An autopsy ruled Thompson’s death a homicide, but also found that he had a heart abnormality and died of cardiac arrhythmia.
Though a Fulton County grand jury did not indict the two aides, Keach has filed lawsuits in federal and state courts on behalf of Thompson’s family. He said the DOJ report showed that excessive restraint is not uncommon.
“I have been complaining about a culture of brutality and a culture of tacit approval and secrecy by OCFS about problems at Tryon,” Keach said. “And certainly the report is highly relevant to the claims of young Mr. Thompson’s family.”
The DOJ report, issued on Monday, outlined a pattern of “uncontrolled, unsafe applications of force” on residents at Tryon and three other facilities operated by the state’s Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS). The report also found that the facilities violated residents’ constitutional rights by failing to provide proper mental health treatment.
“Certainly this report from DOJ confirms the range of complaints made over the years about the manner in which the facility is run,” Keach said, “including the fact that there was – at least during the prior gubernatorial administration – zero accountability at these facilities which allowed these brutal conditions to fester.”
OCFS Commissioner Gladys Carrión, whom then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer appointed in 2007, two months after Thompson’s death, issued a statement on Monday acknowledging the problems.
“I inherited a juvenile justice system rife with substantial systemic problems,” Carrión said in the statement. “As a result, I immediately initiated a complete overhaul of the system to make it safer and to improve outcomes for our children.
Carrión, who has been outspoken in her criticism, is attempting to transform OCFS from a “custody and control” model of juvenile justice to one of trauma-informed therapy. In addition, according to the statement, she has hired additional mental health workers and implemented a new restraint policy.
The Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) seized upon the case of Tryon aide Charles Loftly, who lapsed into a coma and died six weeks after he was beaten by several residents in August 2008. However, an autopsy revealed Loftly, 60, died of a stroke, Oneida County Coroner Greg Mills told CBS 6.
The CSEA, which at the time connected Loftly’s death to “changes in policy and continued understaffing,” reacted to the DOJ report with caution.
“CSEA has long had concerns about OCFS operations but the union cannot respond appropriately without more information,” CSEA spokesman Stephen Madarasz said in a statement. “CSEA will monitor the situation since OCFS apparently must act within a short period of time to comply with recommendations from the Justice Department.”
The DOJ report has given OCFS 49 days to respond with a plan to comply with the report’s recommendations. After that deadline, the U.S. Attorney General is authorized to initiate a lawsuit that could result in a federal takeover of the state’s juvenile detention system.
In a separate matter, the murder of youth counselor Renee C. Greco in June triggered tough questions by some New York State legislators who are pressing New York State Office of Family and Children Services (NYS OCFS) for an explanation of circumstances at Avenue House, the halfway house for troubled teens located in Lockport, NY, where Ms. Greco was brutally murdered by two teens, Anthony Allen and Robert Thousand, both of Rochester, New York.
State Senator Catharine Young (R-Olean) called for an investigation into New York State Office of Family and Children Services, "to determine whether the two charged with murder had been placed appropriately in the group home."
Young, who suspects that Allen and Thousand were "higher-level offenders" has promised to call for Children and Family Services Commissioner Gladys Carrion to be removed or forced to resign if "...an investigation reveals such improper placements,..." (buffalonews.com 06/10/09).
In June, she announced a Special Legislative Task Force to fix New York State's broken juvenile justice system.
Read the CSEA's full response to the U.S. Department of Justice Report on New York State Youth Detention Facilities and U.S. Department of Justice Report Re: Investigation of the Lansing Residential Center, Louis Gossett, Jr. Residential Center, Tryon Residential Center, and Tryon Girls Center.
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