Slammed Again

The state ombudsman's office has concluded that the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections failed to conduct an adequate investigation into allegations that a security officer seriously injured a boy in the state's custody.

The event in question took place in January 2001, when Seth Edwards, then detained at the Adobe Mountain School in Phoenix, suffered eye and head injuries requiring hospitalization. He told his mother that a staff member had hit him in the eye with a closed fist, and thrown him to the ground, injuring his head. New Times reported on Gail Edwards' concerns about her son -- who is now 19, and has since been released from ADJC -- as part of the "Slammed" series on abuses within Arizona's juvenile corrections system ("The Kids Are Still Not Alright," December 20, 2001).

In January 2002, unsatisfied with the response she received from ADJC, Gail Edwards wrote to the ombudsman.

After a 14-month investigation, Arizona ombudsman Patrick Shannahan released a six-page report.

The ombudsman's office found four inadequacies in ADJC's handling of the Edwards matter:

• ADJC lost the investigative file.

• One of the security staff allegedly involved in the altercation with Seth Edwards was assigned to take photographs of the boy's injuries.

• The photographs are missing.

• A nurse called to inform Gail Edwards of her son's injuries, but did not indicate that the injuries were serious (requiring hospitalization) or that they resulted from an incident involving an ADJC staff member.

The ombudsman's office did not substantiate an allegation that a former ADJC staff member had inappropriately contacted her son, after the staff member left the agency.

In his formal response to the report, ADJC director David Gaspar agreed that the photographs should not have been taken by the involved staff member.

"I see our staff and the interventions that we employ as being vital to each youth's care and treatment with us," Gaspar said.

Gail Edwards calls Gaspar's response "syrupy sickening."

"I appreciate the Ombudsman's attempt to expose the problems at ADJC," she says in an e-mail exchange with New Times. "However, I feel several of my concerns fell through the cracks."

Edwards says she plans to now contact the U.S. Department of Justice, which is currently investigating conditions at ADJC, and Governor Janet Napolitano.

"The fact is they do not enhance public protection," she says of ADJC. "They exacerbate the problem by further hardening these youth and sending them out angrier than they went in. I am not done with those institutionalized child abusers yet."

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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