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Tryon Center resident dies over weekend
State police still investigating case

JOHNSTOWN, Nov. 20
By SUBRINA DHAMMI

Online Since 1999
Return to Teen Advocates USA


A 15-year-old juvenile at a residential treatment center died over the weekend.

It's the same facility where former heavy weight boxing champ Mike Tyson once stayed.

There are many questions surrounding how the teen died.  The police and those who run the Tryon Residential Center are being very tight lipped.  What we know is that this teen died after fighting with one of the staff members.

“I saw two state troopers going over into Tryon with their Sububrbans,” neighbor Dave Darling said he witnessed Saturday morning.

“A little while later an ambulance went in there and came out with sirens,” he added.

Darling lives right across Tryon in Johnstown.

The Fulton County district attorney says one of the residents was taken to St. Mary's Hospital in Amsterdam on Saturday.  That's where he was pronounced dead.

The district attorney says the boy died after he got into an altercation with a staff member at Tryon.  It’s not clear if that altercation played a role in the boy's death or what the altercation was about.

Tryon is a secure facility for juvenile delinquents.  About 400 employees there are represented by the Civil Service Employee Association.  A spokesman for CSEA says a number of their workers have been questioned.  He also says CSEA is concerned with how the Tryon facility is operated.

Tryon is run by the office of child and family services.  In a statement from OCFS the spokesman says, “We take these matters very seriously.  Whenever there is an incident at a residential treatment center a thorough investigation is done.  The safety of the residents and staff are of utmost importance."

An autopsy is scheduled Monday at Albany Medical Center.

The district attorney says those results and more information about what was involved with this teen's death will be made known Tuesday.




Tryon Center resident dies over weekend
State police still investigating case

Johnstown - November 20, 2006
By Subrina Dhammi


Groups call for Tryon investigation

By MICHAEL ANICH and JASON SUBIK The Leader-Herald
Thursday, November 30, 2006 — Time: 1:23:21 AM EST

PERTH — Two civil liberties organizations are calling for an independent investigation into Saturday’s death of a 15-year-old Bronx boy who was incarcerated at the Tryon Boys Juvenile Rehabilitation Center.

The not-for-profit New York Civil Liberties Union and the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union are calling for the investigation.

State Sen. Hugh T. Farley, R-Niskayuna, said today more work has to be done in the current state police investigation.

“I think there should be an investigation, but I don’t think the Civil Liberties Union should be involved in it,” Farley said. “I’m very supportive of Tryon ... [The resident’s death] is a tough situation.”

The boy, whose name is not being released by authorities, was pronounced dead Saturday at St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam after he was transported from Tryon at approximately 9:20 a.m.

Fulton County District Attorney Louise K. Sira said he died following an incident in which he was restrained by Tryon staff.

Sira said the Tryon resident had “become physically aggressive” with staff members at Tryon, at which point they restrained him. After the restraint was over, there was a period when he was breathing normally and able to talk, but began to exhibit signs of distress, she said.

She said the boy’s Bronx family doesn’t want to release his identity, and authorities are following suit.

“They’re not willing to consent to the identity,” Sira said.

Robert Freeman, the executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, said Tuesday the law protects the Office of Children and Family Services’ right to withhold the child’s identity and prohibit Sira or other officials from doing so.

That state office oversees about 50 facilities statewide similar to Tryon.

The district attorney said Dr. Michael Sikirica, the pathologist who performed the autopsy Sunday at the Albany Medical Center, said he probably won’t have more information until early next week.

Sira said Sikirica is waiting for the family to provide the medical history of the boy to him.

“Once we have a cause of death, we’ll be able to release more details,” Sira said.

State police are investigating the case.

The NYCLU, founded in 1951 and serving as the New York affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, posted a news release on its Web site Tuesday that called for an investigation.

“The death of a child in one of New York’s juvenile prisons raises major concerns and must prompt a thorough and independent investigation,” the NYCLU and the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union said in a joint statement.

“No child should die in prison,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU executive director. “This tragic event raises an alarm about what is going on inside the walls of Tryon. The NYCLU and ACLU are seeking further information as to the cause of this child’s death, and we call on the state to initiate an immediate investigation of the facility by an impartial and competent party.”

Lieberman and NYCLU Director of Communications Maggie Graham didn’t immediately return phone calls this morning seeking comment.

Motive questioned

Office of Children and Family Services spokesman Brian Marchetti said today he is not sure what the NYCLU wants at this point. He questioned whether the organization wants to get to the bottom of how a child died or seek headlines.

“I don’t know what they’re asking for,” said Marchetti. “The OCFS severely questions the motives of the ACLU. We’re baffled by them.”

The girls’ half of the Tryon facility was the subject of a report, Custody and Control: Conditions of Confinement in New York’s Juvenile Prisons for Girls, which the ACLU and Human Rights Watch released this fall.
The report documented abuse and neglect of the children in the facility as well as an intensively secretive culture within OCFS, the NYCLU Web site says.

“We are extremely concerned by this child’s death and will closely monitor the agency’s response,” said Mie Lewis, an attorney and the Aryeh Neier Fellow at the ACLU and Human Rights Watch. “This tragic death demonstrates the urgent need for real oversight as a means of ending the abuses at OCFS facilities.”

The ACLU/HRW report documents that staff at Tryon and another OCFS facility frequently use the “face-down restraint” procedure — seizing a child from behind and pushing the child to the floor, then pulling the child’s arms behind him to hold or handcuff him — to punish the child. The children are punished in this way for such minor infractions as improperly making their bed, failing to raise their hand before speaking or failing to move or stand still on command, according to the report.

“Using such violent restraints for minor acts constitutes a disproportionate and excessive use of force,” said Melanie Trimble, director of the NYCLU’s Capital Region Chapter.

The report recommends the creation of an independent office charged with monitoring the treatment of children held in juvenile facilities.

Company critical of state

Meanwhile, the company that trained Office of Children and Family Services employees in the use of restraining techniques criticized the state in the death of the male resident.

Bruce Chapman, the president and founder of Handle with Care, an Ulster County-based crisis intervention and restraint training program company, said his firm trained OCFS in the use of face-down restraining techniques in 1988. He said the agency never used Handle with Care’s annual recertification program or incorporated any of its technique upgrades into OCFS instruction manuals.

“If it turns out that this child died from asphyxiation caused by a misuse of a primary restraining technique, I lay the blame for his death right in the lap of [OCFS Commissioner] John Johnson,” Chapman said.

Chapman said his company owns the copyrights to a patented take-down method, which he claims the state has been using improperly for years as part of what he called a “renegade program.”

Chapman said his face-down, or “prone,” restraint method training manuals have undergone several safety upgrades since his company was originally employed by OCFS. He claims the manuals OCFS use to train employees contain his copyrighted illustrations and information, but do not include the program modifications which emphasize how to retrain an individual without placing weight on the person’s back and chest. He said in some cases, that could cause asphyxiation. He said the “tripod” safeguard modification was always a part of his program, but is now emphasized more clearly with better training techniques than in 1988.

“We offered to give them the upgrades in 1998 for free, but they did not incorporate them into their training manuals,” Chapman said.

Handle with Care Vice President and legal counsel Hilary Adler said her company filed a federal lawsuit against OCFS in 2002 to attempt to stop the agency from using the company’s copyrighted program materials.

“We do not want our company associated in any way with the current mess of a program they administer,” Adler said.

She said Handle with Care is appealing a Sept. 29, 2005, decision by federal court Judge David Hurd, who dismissed the copyright claim. Adler said Hurd was wrong to dismiss the case and claims OCFS is running a dangerous restraint program.

Adler claims OCFS’ restraint policy is unsafe.

“Under this policy, a child’s last words might very well be, ‘I can’t breathe,’” he said.

OCFS spokesman Marchetti said his agency would not comment on any of Chapman’s or Adler’s statements because of the pending litigation with Handle with Care.

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SEE ALSO:

Martin Lee Anderson:  A Call For Justice
HOLY THE CHILDREN: Deaths of Children in Private and State-Run Children's Programs & Institutions
Teen Advocates USA Juvenile Justice Webpage

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