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Suicide Watch

On the morning of Sunday, March 23, Roy Roman Jr. looped a belt around his neck and hanged himself at Adobe Mountain School. He is the third boy to kill himself in less than a year at the Phoenix detention facility run by the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections.

Officially, ADJC has released only the briefest facts on the death of the 16-year-old, who was sent to Adobe Mountain in January for breaking into a car with some friends. Roman was scheduled to be released as early as June, and he had a lot to look forward to, says his mother, Angela Villa. She and her family are shocked, saying they had no clue that the boy was even depressed.

But staff at Adobe Mountain say there were indications that Roy Roman was suicidal. One individual who attended a confidential meeting shortly after Roman's death says the boy tried to hang himself with a tee shirt while in a Mesa detention facility, shortly before he was sent to Adobe Mountain.

"Nobody red-flagged this info, and now he's dead," says the staffer, who spoke to New Times on the condition of anonymity.

And other staff members say the most basic measures to prevent a suicide were not taken:

• Several staffers confirm that the youth corrections officer who first found Roman was not wearing the "911" emergency pack that all officers have been required to wear since shortly after the second successful suicide last summer. The pack includes a CPR mask, gloves and a tool designed specifically to cut down a hanging victim.

• Although the grounds of Adobe Mountain School have been "suicide-proofed" in recent months, metal structures were left on the walls of the Freedom cottage, where Roman lived, that made a hanging possible. (In the days following Roman's suicide, those structures were taken out by maintenance personnel, staffers stay.)



• Staffers also confirm and Roy Roman's parents say they were told that the boy was left unsupervised in his room for 10 minutes, which turned out to be more than enough time to commit suicide.

Morale among both kids and staff at ADJC is way down, insiders report, and there is wide speculation that this latest death could mark the end of director David Gaspar's career with the agency.

Roy Roman's suicide has focused new attention on ADJC. Despite the fact that the agency has been the target of a U.S. Department of Justice civil rights investigation for a year, Governor Janet Napolitano has taken no action with regard to ADJC since taking office in January.

Gaspar, like several other state agency heads, has not been fired, but he has also not been officially appointed to the Napolitano administration.



Napolitano, who heard of the latest suicide "within minutes," met with Gaspar two days later, and has scheduled several additional meetings with ADJC staff in the coming weeks, says her spokeswoman, Kris Mayes.

There is speculation inside ADJC and among local politicos that Napolitano has given Gaspar more leeway because the two are neighbors at a downtown Phoenix condominium complex.

Mayes says Napolitano is now focused on ADJC, and wants to make long-term plans to ensure that behavioral services are adequate, and that juveniles are treated differently from adult offenders.

One ADJC staffer, who spent the day of Roman's suicide counseling kids at Adobe Mountain, says that will not happen without the dismissal of Gaspar and several other top-ranking ADJC officials.

"We don't treat kids humanely, we treat them just like they're in the adult system now.... We give treatment lip service," says the staffer, who also requested anonymity. "It's kind of like Iraq. It's time for a regime change."

Steve Meissner, ADJC's spokesman, refuses to discuss the governor's meeting with Gaspar, the director's employment status or the status of the Justice Department probe. Mayes says she's heard that the feds' final report is due out in late summer.

The ADJC staffer wonders if anything will ever change. He asks, "How many kids have to die?"


Until last spring, it had been 14 years since a kid died in the custody of the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections. That changed on April 11, 2002, when Christopher Camacho, 15, was found hanging by a bed sheet in his cell at Adobe Mountain.

David Horvath, 14, hanged himself on July 11 in his cell at Adobe Mountain. He didn't die immediately, but was taken off life support three days later.

There has been at least one other suicide attempt in the past year, in the ADJC system. On October 12, a 16-year-old boy at Eagle Point School in Buckeye attempted to hang himself with a bed sheet in his room. He was hospitalized and later recovered.

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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.