- The Washington Times - Monday, April 18, 2011

A corrections officer was severely beaten during an escape at the District’s secure youth facility in an incident Sunday night that has shocked even veteran corrections officials, who say the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) failed to heed warnings that staffing levels were inadequate.

Family members of one of the youths believed to be involved say DYRS officials similarly failed to recognize signs that he was becoming increasingly troubled while being housed at the District’s $46 million, 60-bed youth detention facility, the New Beginnings Youth Development Center.

Sylvester Young, a 20-year veteran officer, responded around midnight Sunday when a youth housed at the Laurel, Md., facility broke the lock on his door, multiple corrections officers told The Washington Times. The youth beat Mr. Young and then freed another youth. They further beat the officer and then stole his keys, cellphone and wallet, corrections officers said. One of the youths used a ladder to get over a fence topped with razor wire and escaped in Mr. Young’s car, officers said.

Sources identified the juvenile who escaped as Treyvon Cortez Carey. Family members, who requested anonymity out of concern for the family’s safety, said Treyvon had previously escaped from a group home and was placed at New Beginnings last summer. The 18-year-old reportedly is committed until he reaches 21.

A cousin described Treyvon as 6 feet tall and muscular, and as a youth who had been in trouble for years for theft and burglary. In a telephone interview, Treyvon’s grandmother said she spoke with him a week ago, and he was upset because he had been in a number of fights. She described him as depressed, with other mental issues, and said he was prescribed medication, but that DYRS staff had told his family that he had stopped taking his medication.

“He has a lot of problems,” Treyvon’s grandmother said. “They should pay more attention when a child is crying out for help. He was tired of fighting.”

The grandmother added that she didn’t think New Beginnings was the right place for Treyvon. “He should’ve been in an institution where they can watch him,” she said. “He shouldn’t have been there. I hope he turns himself in. I’m worried someone could harm him.”

Chris Shorter, chief of staff to interim DYRS Director Neil Stanley, said he could not confirm details about the incident or about the youth involved.

The escape comes at a sensitive time politically for Mr. Stanley, who was appointed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray to lead the agency last month. Mr. Stanley’s nomination, which has been opposed by labor unions representing DYRS employees, must be voted on by the council.

Tasha Williams, head of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) unit that represents corrections officers at the facility, said her union has expressed concerns about officer safety ever since midnight-shift staffing levels were reduced under former DYRS Director Vincent N. Schiraldi.

“I’m having trouble with this,” Ms. Williams said Monday. “We’ve been saying someone is going to get hurt. It shouldn’t have cost like that. They beat that man. He has a family.”

Mr. Shorter said the staffing ratios of Mr. Stanley’s predecessor — one staff member per 10-person unit, with a floater who keeps an eye on two units at a time — are under review.

“We need to take a thoughtful look,” he said. “We are not wedded to our predecessor’s ratios.”

Mr. Shorter said Mr. Young was taken to an area hospital where he was treated and released on Monday morning. Bones in his face were broken and he will require plastic surgery, said Ms. Williams, who spoke with the officer’s wife.

Corrections officials told The Times that Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier issued a lookout for the juvenile and the car at a morning briefing. No arrest had been made as of Monday afternoon. Mr. Shorter said DYRS officials are working with police and community members to pursue leads.

The escape is the first from the facility in nearly two years, after a rash of incidents in which juveniles fled the facility in the months after it opened.

Several staff members were injured in June while trying to control a group of inmates who had climbed onto a roof on campus.

Many area residents and Maryland officials have called on the D.C. government to move the facility out of Laurel, citing its distance from the inmates’ families and potential dangers posed by its escapees.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, proposed last year that the District relocate its inmates into space soon to be vacated at the site of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District.

“The facility needs to be in the District,” said Cardin spokeswoman Susan Sullam. “It serves juveniles from the District, and it needs to be in close proximity to their families.”

Ray Smallwood, president of the Maryland City Civic Association, said residents have long fought to have the facility moved, and that he thinks its distance from the District contributes to low inmate morale and the number of attempted escapes.

He accused D.C. officials of failing to inform residents of such incidents due to fear of bad publicity.

“D.C. has done nothing but lie to this community and lie to the state of Maryland,” Mr. Smallwood said, adding he was unaware of the escape until he was told by a reporter Monday afternoon.

Mr. Shorter, who along with Mr. Stanley and other executive staff had been at New Beginnings since 1 a.m. Monday, said that no alarm sounds when a resident escapes over the fence. However, all necessary officials — including the neighboring National Security Administration — were notified in a timely manner, Mr. Shorter said.

Asked if the escape and the beating could have been avoided, Mr. Shorter replied: “We feel horrible no matter who is at fault. Obviously, the agency has to take full responsibility. But I’d be wrong if I said there are not ways to improve policies and procedures. There are always ways to improve.”

David Hill contributed to this report.

• Jeffrey Anderson can be reached at jmanderson@washingtontimes.com.

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