Kid Row

Isolated, abused and lacking mental health care, do juvenile offenders leave state custody in worse shape than when they went in?

But more often, according to department records, female staff are having sex with boys in their care. A female corrections officer at Eagle Point failed a polygraph test in which she denied having oral sex with a boy while he was in separation in 1999.

Another Eagle Point officer failed a polygraph test in 1999 when she denied having "intimate sexual relations" with a boy. A female officer at Adobe had sexual relations with four boys between March and July 1999 -- including asking a boy to show her his penis, masturbating a boy, allowing a boy to fondle her and having sexual intercourse with a boy in her cottage's "tool room," according to internal affairs reports.

Just this past Saturday, Jim, a 16-year-old Eagle Point detainee, called his father to report that he had been beaten up by staff. According to Joel Ybarra, Jim's dad, Jim had touched an ADJC employee on the butt, on a dare. He was put in handcuffs and taken to separation. On the way, Ybarra says, "three officers started harassing him, teasing him about his ears," which stick out a little. Jim responded with a "fuck you," and the officers threw Jim to the ground. "They started rubbing his face on the gravel and started stepping on his head," Ybarra says, then slammed him into a door.

Steve Granitz/Rogers & Cowan
A boy in his cell at Adobe Mountain.
Dan Huff
A boy in his cell at Adobe Mountain.


More stories in the Slammed special report.

Jim asked staff to photograph his injuries, but they refused, according to his father, who drove up from Tucson the next day to see Jim's black eye, scratches and bruises.

Jim has been in ADJC custody since February. His dad says his record includes possession of marijuana, car theft (Ybarra's car) and multiple counts of probation violation. He ran from authorities when they tried to pick him up for the latest probation violation, which landed him at ADJC.

"My boy's in there for a reason. He's not an angel. But those officers don't have a right to abuse him," Ybarra says.

The federal court order signed in 1993 does not specifically address such abuse. That, Jan Christian explains, is because the state would not have dared to defend it. The order did require ADJC to adequately train staff and maintain a 1-to-8 staff-to-kid ratio during daytime hours. But staff say that numbers are padded -- secretaries and maintenance crew are included in the department's tally to bolster the ratio -- and that in fact, it's common for a cottage of 24 or more kids to have two staff members on hand at a time.

"People just have to know from the top down that as much as we get frustrated with these kids, hitting them, having sex with them, abusing them" cannot be tolerated, says Superior Court Judge Maurice Portley, who until last month had been chief juvenile court presiding judge since 1998.

"The issue is, would we tolerate this in a school? Would we tolerate it from someone in child protective custody? Would we tolerate it from a parent?"

And while the troubles begin at the bottom, with entry-level corrections officers, they extend all the way up to the highest levels of ADJC.

In 1999, a corrections officer reported that then-Adobe Mountain superintendent Joe Taylor ordered restraints put on a boy who was not at all violent, but instead was sitting in a chair, crying -- a direct violation of the federal court order.

According to a memo written by youth rights ombudsman Terri Capozzi, "The [incident report] itself notes that Mr. Taylor instructed staff to place mechanical restraints on the youth before the youth became physically aggressive. In fact, it appears that the youth did not actually become aggressive until orders were issued to restrain him. If the youth is to be believed, he feared being restrained and forced to return to a cottage where he felt unsafe." (The boy had been arguing with other kids in his unit.)

A year earlier, Joe Taylor had had another run-in with an Adobe youth, according to a confidential memo from Marian Webber, assistant director for secure care, to David Gaspar, then ADJC interim director.

According to the memo, the youth, Virgil, alleged the following:

"Superintendent Taylor came to his room and told his roommates to leave. He then began to question [Virgil] about tagging the walls. [Virgil] said that during the conversation Superintendent Taylor poked him in the chest, then slapped him on the forehead causing his head to hit the wall."

Taylor acknowledged coming in to speak to Virgil and asking his roommates to leave. He says he did at one point have his hand on Virgil's wrist, without pressure, but otherwise did not touch him. The health unit did not find bruising or other evidence of harm to Virgil.

But Frederico, a boy across the hall from Virgil, related the following: "A black officer was in [Virgil's] room. The black officer was observed hitting [Virgil] in the head while asking him why he filed a grievance. The black officer picked up [Virgil] by his shirt and threw him across the room."

Frederico subsequently gave ADJC a conflicting statement, Webber writes, and was later deported to Mexico. The grievance was considered resolved, although Virgil and Taylor never agreed.

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