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Gentle Exit

More than a year into a federal investigation of alleged abuse of children in his agency's custody, Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections Director David Gaspar has resigned.

Neither Gaspar nor Governor Janet Napolitano, who accepted his resignation last week, mentioned the investigation or other problems that have plagued the agency, which runs the state's juvenile detention facilities. Instead, Napolitano heaped praise on Gaspar.

"Dave Gaspar has been a steadfast and dedicated public servant and his efforts on behalf of troubled teens are to be commended," Napolitano said in a statement released August 15. "During his career he has served Arizona well."

And Gaspar piled more plaudits upon himself.

"This has been a time of achievement," Gaspar wrote in a memo the same day to ADJC staff. "We completed the reforms that were necessary to implement the Johnson v. Upchurch consent decree. We have implemented a number of proven, best-practice programs that improved the delivery of services to youth who were challenged by substance abuse, trauma, mental-health needs and dysfunctional backgrounds."

Perhaps not surprisingly, neither Gaspar nor the governor made mention of the problems that have plagued ADJC under Gaspar's tenure. Gaspar and ADJC were the subject of a New Times series, "Slammed," that detailed abuse of children in the state's custody since the Johnson v. Upchurch consent decree was lifted in 1998, the same year Gaspar became director. Abuse included putting kids in solitary confinement for weeks at a time, substandard mental health and substance abuse treatment, and poor education services. Within the span of a little more than a year, three boys at Adobe Mountain School committed suicide.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into alleged abuse at the state-run facilities. Officials at the federal agency have refused to comment regarding ongoing investigations, so it is unknown when results will be available.



Napolitano's press secretary, Kris Mayes, did not return a call for comment. Gaspar referred calls to Steve Meissner, his public information officer, who provided the memo Gaspar sent to ADJC employees.

Napolitano is not always so lavish in her compliments of departing agency heads. In contrast with the glowing press release on Gaspar, her March 2003 announcement of the exit of Department of Economic Security Director John Clayton was terse. Speculation among political observers is that Napolitano was hard-pressed to ask Gaspar to leave his post because his wife, Becky, is a political supporter of the governor's. The Gaspars and Napolitano are neighbors in a downtown Phoenix condominium complex.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.