- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2011

One of the D.C. youths who escaped from a secure residential facility in Northwest last week walked away less than a month earlier from a South Carolina facility and a “low risk” group home in the District prior to jumping from a third-floor window of the locked facility last week, according to sources within the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS).

Leon Wynder and Reginald Tomonia, both 17, were apprehended within a week of last week’s escape, during which they had cut off their Global Positioning System bracelets, the sources said.

Little information about Reginald was available Thursday, the day after a lengthy confirmation hearing for Interim DYRS Director Neil Stanley that featured D.C. Council members expressing concerns about Mr. Stanley‘s qualifications and staffing decisions, while signaling they might nevertheless confirm him.

Leon, however, has compiled a record as a flight risk, having been a ward of DYRS since he was 12, sources familiar with his case said. The sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly, said Leon walked away from a residential facility in South Carolina approximately three weeks prior to last week’s escape.

After he was apprehended, he was sent to the Exodus Program, a short-term group home for youth with nonviolent histories who are awaiting placement elsewhere, DYRS sources said. He soon walked away from Exodus, was apprehended again and sent to Alternative Solutions for Youth (ASY), a secure residential treatment facility in the 5800 block of 14th Street Northwest, the sources said.

Because D.C. zoning laws prohibit certain buildings from having locked windows, the sources explained, Leon and Reginald were able climb out the third-floor window and jump to the ground before ditching their GPS bracelets.

A proposal pending before the D.C. Council would allow DYRS in the event of escapes to release a photograph and “other relevant information” to help apprehend the juvenile escapee instead of waiting for a court order. Yet Leon‘s case has become a mystery within DYRS, according to multiple sources who told The Washington Times that access to his case file has been restricted within the department‘s internal case management database, the Youth Empowerment System (YES).

All that remains in YES is Leon‘s name and a blank file, multiple sources told The Times.

Decisions about youths awaiting placement are handled by Mark Bell, a veteran DYRS employee who sources say is well-trained in youth detention and rehabilitation. But Mr. Bell is supervised by a special assistant, Michael Umpierre, a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School who has a background in social policy, immigration and family law, and youth advocacy law.

Veteran case managers who spoke with The Times on the condition of anonymity said they fear such placement decisions are being directed by Mr. Umpierre without sufficient input from licensed social workers or youth rehabilitation experts.

Christopher Shorter, chief of staff to Mr. Stanley, said placement decisions include input from staff, family and youth outreach service providers, but he declined to confirm the specific roles of any employees. Mr. Shorter acknowledged that DYRS takes steps to protect confidential information within the agency, adding that anyone who knowingly releases such information is in violation of D.C. law and subject to criminal penalties.

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