- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 21, 2011

A D.C. teen was at large Thursday after escaping a South Carolina juvenile detention facility with three other teens from the District, city officials said.

The four escaped the Palmetto Summerville Behavioral Health Center, a 60-bed, secure-placement facility in Summerville, S.C., at 6:12 p.m. Wednesday. No injuries to the staff or other facility residents were reported, and three of the youths were recaptured, yet the incident prompted a D.C. Council member to question the wisdom of placing troubled youth outside the District.

The escape Wednesday was the second this week by D.C. wards, and it set off a multistate search that included the South Carolina State Police, the Metropolitan Police Department and the D.C. Office of the Attorney General.

City officials at a downtown news conference Thursday morning offered few details about the escape, except that the young men were able to get by guards at the facility’s gymnasium and hop a fence.

The Washington Times confirmed with South Carolina authorities that the juveniles who escaped were Delonte Parker, 19, Brandon Sparrow, 18, Christopher Griffin, 17, and Jaboni Cruz, 17.

Sources in the District with knowledge of the situation told The Times that Parker was the youth still at large. One source, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, described him as a “serious offender.”

Tips from the community and information gathered by law enforcement are helping authorities track down the youth, interim DYRS Director Neil A. Stanley said.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape, and we’re definitely going to find the young man who left the premises,” he said.

Dorchester County Sheriff’s Maj. John Garrison described Parker as a black male, 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing 172 pounds.

Mr. Stanley declined to comment on how dangerous he may be to the public. However, Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said any time there is a person who should be in custody, yet is not, “it’s a concern to us.”

Details of Parker’s juvenile record were not readily available, but D.C. Superior Court records indicate he was arrested in 2008 for fleeing a police officer in the area of 17th and Euclid streets in Northwest. He was driving a Mercedes at the time with Virginia tags on the back and Maryland tags on the front. He failed to complete a diversion program and was sentenced to seven days in jail.

He was later found guilty on a charge of tampering with a monitoring device.

In March, Parker was ordered detained to a Pennsylvania residential treatment center for 90 days. It was unclear from the court papers what precipitated his transfer to South Carolina.

The Palmetto Summerville facility is a contract services provider for DYRS, which said the center offers in-treatment programs for adolescent males with sexually aggressive behaviors, substance-abuse problems and psychiatric, behavioral or conduct issues. The facility is located about 25 miles from Charleston, S.C., and about 90 miles from the state capital, Columbia, along Interstate 26.

Maj. Garrison said Dorchester County sheriff’s deputies found the three youths that were recaptured traveling on foot, several miles from the facility on Dorchester Road in the direction of Charleston. They were taken into custody without incident.

The escape Wednesday came after an 18-year-old used a ladder to hop a razor-wire fence after beating a corrections officer Sunday night at New Beginnings, the District’s secure facility in Laurel. The youth, identified as Travon Curry, drove the officer’s car past a guard post and abandoned it about 20 miles away in Southeast.

Police are still looking for the youth in the D.C. area, Chief Lanier said Thursday.

DYRS is responsible for more than 1,000 committed youth in its custody, including 225 at residential treatment centers in other states.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and chairman of the D.C. Committee on Human Services that has oversight of DYRS, said “this recent breakout is another example of why we need to thoroughly examine the practices and decision-making processes of this agency in regards to the placement of our juvenile offenders.”

In particular, he said, “it underscores the need for us to re-examine and analyze the use of residential-treatment facilities outside of the District of Columbia.”

He said D.C. youths placed out of state typically come back to the District with no network, because any possibility for family contacts and support “is greatly diminished.”

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

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