Youth Detention Center Broke Teen's Shoulder and Didn't Tell Anyone for 3 Months
CONCORD (AP) — Workers at New Hampshire's youth detention center broke the law when they fractured a teenage boy's shoulder blade and failed to accurately report the incident, according to an advocacy group for people with disabilities.
In an investigative report issued Tuesday, the Disability Rights Center of New Hampshire said staff at the Sununu Youth Services Center used excessive force and caused serious injury to a 14-year-old boy with emotional and behavioral disabilities in December 2016, delayed his medical care, and failed to notify the advocacy group until three months later, despite a state law requiring such reporting.
Further review revealed that staff routinely violated state law in using dangerous, face-down restraint methods, the report concludes.
Stephanie Patrick, the group's executive director, said a 2010 report by the Disability Rights Center highlighted similar problems, but the state failed to implement recommended fixes.
"Many of the children at SYSC have mental illness and a history of traumatic victimization," she said in a statement. "It's critical that SYSC change its policies and practices to protect these children from further abuse."
Moira O'Neill, director of the Office of the Child Advocate, said the report, if accurate, describes "a grave and unsafe situation."
"First and foremost, children with mental illness need mental health care," O'Neill said. She said the continued use of a detention center for the placement of children in need of care is unacceptable.
O'Neill also said any staff assigned to care for children with mental illness must be trained to recognize certain behavior as a symptom of underlying illness. "No illness is ever effectively treated with violence," she said.
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, said he takes the allegations very seriously and has asked Attorney General Gordon MacDonald and Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers to investigate. Meyers said they are proceeding.
The Manchester facility is named for Sununu's father, former Gov. John H. Sununu, and serves children ages 13 to 17 ordered to a secure institutional setting by the juvenile justice system. According to Tuesday's report, the 14-year-old boy had been diagnosed with severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder and had been at the center for two weeks while awaiting an opening at a community-based residential program.
After disobeying an order to go to his room, the teen was moved to a crisis services unit and put into a room alone. Video footage shows him opening the door and standing just outside the room several times before a staffer pushed him back into the room and threw him to the ground, putting his knee on his back and pushing the boy's face against the floor, the report states. After the teen tried to open the door, two staffers grabbed his arms and pushed him to the floor, face down. The state's chief medical examiner, who reviewed the footage, said it appeared that one worker's full body weight landed on the boy's upper back.
Medical staff at the center gave the boy ibuprofen and ice. An x-ray five days later showed a fracture, according to the report, which was based on reviews of records and documents and interviews with the boy, his mother, a witness to the incident and several detention center officials. The staff members directly involved in the incident declined to be interviewed by the advocacy group.
The report includes several recommendations, including improved staff training and intensive monitoring of the use of restraints.