8 hurt after riot breaks out at Md. juvenile detention center

Three employees were transported to area hospitals for injuries that were deemed not life-threatening

By Nancy Lavin
The Frederick News-Post, Md.

SABILLASVILLE, Md. — A state-run youth detention center in Sabillasville remains under investigation after a riot broke out Sunday morning and injured eight employees, according to Maryland State Police.

Three employees at the Victor Cullen Center were transported to area hospitals for injuries that were deemed not life-threatening, including blows to the head and face, from a fight that began in the juvenile dormitories, according to Trooper 1st Class Jonathan Deater. Five other employees refused medical treatment. None of the male juveniles was injured.

State troopers and deputies with the Frederick County Sheriff's Office received the call reporting an incident around 11:30 a.m. Sunday, according to Deater. Responders arrived to find eight employees injured, property destroyed and juveniles standing on the roof of the dormitory, Deater said.

With help from a sheriff's deputy trained as a negotiator, law enforcement quelled the riot within 30 to 45 minutes, securing the buildings and the residents inside them. Seven juveniles surrendered, and an eighth was taken into custody without incident, according a statement.

No weapons were involved except for a pair of handcuffs, Deater said.

The Victor Cullen Center remained on lockdown Sunday afternoon as troopers awaited the arrival of criminal investigators. Additional troopers with Maryland State Police combed the campus, searching for any keys or radios that might have been unaccounted for, Deater said.

The eight juveniles believed to be involved have not been identified. Charges remained pending as of 6 p.m. Sunday, according Sgt. Dale Smith with Maryland State Police.

The Victor Cullen Center is a regional maximum-security facility run by the Department of Juvenile Services, according to the department's website. The site provides education, medical and counseling services to high-risk boys between the ages of 14 and 18.

It is the only "hardware secure” facility in the state, meaning one secured through both both staff supervision and physical limitations such as locks, bars and fences.

Fighting and assaults between juveniles and staff have plagued the facility in years past, prompting the Juvenile Justice Monitoring Unit to recommend capping the number of residents and increasing the number of employees, The News-Post has reported. JJMU has also recommended policy changes and more training for employees, who have in the past used seclusion and other punishment methods unnecessarily.

The JJMU is an independent agency formed under the state Office of the Attorney General in order to audit Maryland Department of Juvenile Services facilities, according to its website. The quarterly reports include an analysis of average daily populations and reported assaults and restraints at DJS facilities, among other data.

There were 61 instances of youth-on-youth assaults at the Cullen Center in 2017, according to an annual review by JJMU published last month. This is up from the 55 youth-on-youth assaults reported in 2016, but fewer than prior years, including a peak of 104 youth-on-youth assaults in 2014.

Reported incidents of youth assaulting staff dropped slightly, from 19 each in 2015 and 2016 to 18 in 2017.

Use of seclusion was halved from 101 times in 2016 to 51 times in 2017. Instances of physical restraint and the use of handcuffs and shackles all increased from 2016 to 2017.

The juvenile population rose to a daily average of 28 boys in 2017, compared to the 21 in 2016. The report did not include the number of employees, but noted there were 16 vacancies at the start of the fourth quarter of 2017. The report highlighted several instances in which lack of staffing led to fights and other instances of "chaos," including two times when boys climbed onto the roof of a building.

The Maryland chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union representing the Cullen Center's employees, also highlighted understaffing problems in a statement released Sunday about the riot.

Union President Patrick Moran was quoted as saying, "For months, we have consistently warned that an incident like this was inevitable because of the ongoing staffing crisis in detention facilities, hospitals and departments across Maryland."

Sunday was the second time Maryland State Police have responded to violence at the Victor Cullen Center in the last two years, the release stated.

There were about 30 juveniles on campus when the riot happened Sunday, according to Deater.

Jay Cleary, the Department of Juvenile Services' chief of staff, could not provide an exact number of employees but said additional staff had been called in to to help supervise and that the incident was under control.

©2018 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.)

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