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DYRS chief still under scrutiny

Staffers make accusations in lawsuit

- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2012

More than a year has passed since D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) Director Neil Stanley overcame staunch union resistance and a bruising confirmation process to be hired to lead the troubled agency.

But according to allegations in a civil lawsuit and interviews with current and former DYRS employees, some of them executive level officials and close associates of Mr. Stanley, his management style and lack of leadership skills have hurt the agency.

A preference for secrecy, distrust of his own employees — save for a small inner circle that exercises tight control over management decisions with little input from experienced juvenile justice professionals — and an impulse to cover up bad outcomes are among the chief complaints of both rank-and-file and front-office employees.

Now Mr. Stanley faces a crucial oversight hearing examining his leadership of an agency under a consent decree that is still recovering from years of abusive detention policies, and which, in the past five years, has placed more than 50 medium- to high-risk youths in communities where they have either been killed or convicted of a killing.

Concerns about Mr. Stanley have made their way to council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and chairman of the Committee on Health and Human Services, which oversees the beleaguered agency.

"While DYRS has made some improvements over the last year, we have a long way to go," said Mr. Graham, who will convene the hearing Friday.

Mr. Stanley declined to be interviewed, but Deputy Mayor Beatriz "B.B." Otero, who oversees DYRS, has publicly praised the 42-year-old journeyman bureaucrat. She denied that advocacy groups like the Annie E. Casey Foundation, where she once worked, have dictated philosophy, policy or hiring decisions to the city.

Such denials ring hollow within the agency.

A nagging concern about Mr. Stanley has been his hiring of a social acquaintance to run the New Beginnings Youth Development Center after revising the job qualifications to suit him. Steven T. Baines, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran who had no previous discernible juvenile justice experience, remains at the helm of New Beginnings.

A separate concern, veteran administrators and rank-and-file employees said, is that when a DYRS youth is killed or named as a suspect in a murder or escapes from a group home or other facility, Mr. Stanley orders the agencywide database of juvenile case files locked down so only he and his inner circle have access. Mr. Stanley's chief of staff, Christopher Shorter, said imposing secrecy except on a "need-to-know basis" is justified.

"The agency has the ability and an obligation to protect the confidentiality of juvenile records," he said.

At the same time, an investigation involving sex-abuse allegations against a management-level employee that led to a whirlwind of firings, resignations and unexplained job transfers offers a window into what many describe as chaos, distrust and dysfunction within the agency.

The Washington Times reported in July about a 28-year-old female DYRS employee who accused her male supervisor of forcing her to perform oral sex on him in his office over a period of several months. The equal employment opportunity unit of the office of the attorney general (OAG) investigated but could not substantiate the accusation, according to management-level employees who were interviewed in the probe.

The supervisor, who was fired after an investigation, vehemently denied having any sexual relations with his accuser, who was transferred out of YSC and remains employed by DYRS.

But the allegation and resulting investigation also caused considerable collateral damage inside the agency.

John Dowdy, acting deputy superintendent of the Youth Services Center (YSC), was fired in the course of the investigation and has since filed a lawsuit saying Mr. Stanley attempted to elicit negative information about other managers.

Mr. Dowdy said he declined. In response, the lawsuit states, Mr. Stanley warned Mr. Dowdy "that he needed to decide where his loyalties lied."

Mr. Stanley pressed him for dirt on managers whom Mr. Stanley perceived as rivals or detractors, according to the lawsuit. When Mr. Dowdy again declined, Mr. Stanley told him he "better get on board" and decide whose team he was on or he "wouldn't be around for long," it states.

On July 12, Mr. Dowdy was placed on administrative leave. When he signaled his intent to hire a lawyer and file an equal employment opportunity complaint he was fired, the lawsuit states.

Numerous other employees at YSC, the city's detention facility for youths awaiting commitment, were either demoted or transferred with little explanation other than Mr. Stanley was "restructuring" DYRS management.

"It's a pattern of arbitrary firings and other moves that don't make sense," the lawyer for Mr. Dowdy, acting deputy superintendent of the Youth Services Center (YSC) said. "I just don't have a grip on how the department operates except on an ad hoc basis."

Replied Pedro Ribeiro, spokesman for the mayor, "DYRS is committed to ensuring a safe environment for both staff and children, and will make changes to personnel as needed to maintain that safe environment."

In a recent interview, the supervisor named in the sexual-abuse allegations — a veteran juvenile corrections officer who maintains his innocence — said he has worked for good departments and bad ones in his 18 years on the job, but he's never experienced anything quite like DYRS under Mr. Stanley.

"He's willing to learn, but he doesn't seem to know anything about it," the supervisor said of Mr. Stanley's grasp of youth rehabilitation. "The problem is that people are job-scared. Firings appear motivated to protect Stanley."

Beyond concerns about leadership and character that have been voiced at all levels, the supervisor said an ideological litmus test is in place that offends veteran youth corrections workers. He said when he was vying for acting deputy superintendent at YSC, he told Mr. Stanley he was willing to lock down a youth who acted violently while in custody. The two butted heads, he said, with Mr. Stanley insisting on a softer approach favored by the advocacy community.

"I appealed to Stanley to take the handcuffs off the staff and let them do their jobs," he said. "There's no rehabilitation going on anyway."

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