Report claims staff actions sparked violence in April riot at Md. facility
Nine COs and employees were injured in the riot, three of whom were hospitalized
By Jeremy Arias
The Frederick News-Post
SABILLASVILLE, Md. — When John Plummer talks about the young men under his watch at the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services’ Victor Cullen Center in Sabillasville, he calls them “my boys.”
“When I started, as I was sitting in my office I said to myself, ‘I can’t see my boys,’” Plummer said as he walked past a line of secure youth cottages Nov. 21 to point out a building under construction at the end of the lane. “So we made the decision to move our offices back here to this part of the facility.”
Pleasant sentiments aside, leaving an office in a gated-off building near the front of the grounds in favor of a much smaller building surrounded by inmate housing may seem like a bold choice, given Victor Cullen’s recent history.
Just before Plummer took over as superintendent, a riot broke out April 8 in one of the cottages that ended with a group of boys taking over part of Victor Cullen Center.
DJS ejected several youths and froze new admissions after the riot, resulting in a drop in youth-on-youth assaults from 14 in the first quarter of 2018 to just three in the second quarter, when the riot occurred.
Youth assaults on staff also fell, from 10 to just five in the same time period, according the Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit, an independent board under the state’s attorney general that monitors DJS facilities.
That said, the JJMU’s review of the riot did not directly link the number of youth at the facility as a potential cause of the riot. Rather, the report indicated the actions of several DJS staff, including Plummer’s predecessor, Richard Robinson, played a role in sparking violence.
A tense standoff
The riot began at 10:18 a.m. on a Sunday in the Raine youth cottage, which was occupied by 10 boys and four staffers at the time, according the JJMU’s report in September. Three of the staffers present were trainees, the report states.
State police charging documents indicate Daniel James Ennos, 17, started choking another boy in a common area, then shoved a female staff member when she tried to intervene. In contrast, the JJMU’s report claimed the boys were “horseplaying,” and characterized the choking as a headlock.
After two trainee staffers failed to separate the boys, the more experienced female staffer stepped in, according to the JJMU.
The female staffer used expletives and called the boys names while threatening to report the whole unit, further inflaming tensions, according to the JJMU’s report.
“[Ennos] started pacing around the area where [the staffer] was sitting,” the report reads. “He then approached her again, grabbed her pen off her shirt, and pushed her from her seat.”
A standoff then ensued when four young men, led by Ennos, refused to leave the common area and return to their rooms, the report says.
Staff moved the remaining six boys to a separate building, but did not seek to distract them from watching the drama unfold back in the Raine cottage through the windows. Worse, the six youths were left under the supervision of a single trainee staff member, according to the report.
Back in Raine cottage, 11 staffers led by Robinson, then the center’s superintendent, prepared to confront the four youths back in the main room with the hopes of getting them to return to their bedroom cells.
While charging documents gloss over the 55-minute standoff, the JJMU’s report notes that the boys had calmed down significantly and that several staff members objected when Robinson voiced his plan to “rush” the room if the youths failed to comply when approached a final time.
“Despite staff reservations about this tactic, [Robinson] paired up each of the staffers and instructed them to restrain particular kids,” the report reads in part. “A staffer ‘asked why because the youths were not doing anything at that point.’ According to another staffer, the superintendent ‘did not want to hear anything different.’”
In the chaos that ensued, four of the young men in the nearby cottage, led by 19-year-old Diego Demitri Glay, overpowered their lone trainee guard and used his keys to return to Raine cottage to help the first group of youths led by Ennos, the report states.
Staff, several of whom were bloody and injured, eventually retreated to a medical station in another unit, leaving the eight young men locked inside Raine cottage, the report states. But the youths managed to break a window and escaped to the campus grounds after about six minutes.
While roaming the campus, several of the boys cornered Robinson and beat him. Interviewed after the riot, Robinson told officials that, in order to defend himself, he “grabbed [a youth] by the nuts and squeezed hard until he screamed,” according to the JJMU’s report.
By the time state police restored order at Victor Cullen, more than $3,000 in damage had been done and nine guards and employees were injured, three of whom were hospitalized.
Neither the JJMU’s report nor state police charging documents indicate whether any of the youths suffered any injuries.
Of the eight youths charged as a result of the riot, five had pleaded guilty to varying offenses as of Saturday, including causing a riot and assault.
Ahmari Keys, who was 16 when the riot occurred but has since turned 17, was the first of the defendants to close his case, pleading guilty to conspiracy to riot and a misdemeanor theft charge in August and receiving a sentence of eight months, according to court records.
Ali Mohammed Tarek, who was 17 at the time of the riot but is now 18, and Glay both pleaded guilty to rioting and assault charges in separate hearings in September. Tarek was sentenced to five years, while Glay was sentenced to serve three years, according to court records.
Deon Fraser, who was 17 at the time of the riot but has since turned 18, and Camren Colon, 16 now 17, were the most recent to enter guilty pleas, on Oct. 3 and Nov. 14, respectively. Fraser was sentenced to serve six months, and Colon was scheduled to appear for a sentencing hearing Jan. 24, 2019, court records state.
Ennos and Bernard Christian Moore, who was 17 at the time of the riot but is now 18, were scheduled to go to trial in April and January 2019, respectively. No trial date was set for 17-year-old Dareek Townley, whose case remained open as of Saturday, according to online court records.
It was not immediately clear what consequences were faced by the guards or other DJS staff as a result of the riot.
The agency’s official response to the JJMU’s report avoids directly addressing the riot, but Nick Moroney, director of the Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit, pointed out that much can still be inferred from the department’s statements.
“They do point out a number of times under the heading of Victor Cullen that, for example, there is new facility leadership ... a new superintendent installed at the facility, a new assistant superintendent installed at the facility, a new case manager supervisor,” Moroney said, reading from the DJS’ response. “So I think simply pointing that out is certainly indicative of something being done.”
DJS was barred from discussing the incident by court order, said Eric Solomon, an agency spokesman, citing the fact that several of the youths’ court cases remained open, among other reasons.