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Terror in lockup: Part II

This article was published June 15, 1998 at 5:10 a.m.

For Chris, the lessons began at once. He was in a world like no other, a delinquent in the custody of the state.

A guard prepared him for the trip to the Observation and Assessment Center. Chris' feet were shackled and his hands cuffed behind him.

The guard warned him: "If you're going to be stupid and try to run, I'll just step on your shackles and you'll fall on your face. It's not a pretty sight."

At O&A, Chris was ordered to take off his clothing and rub a lotion all over his body. The lotion burned his skin. After 10 minutes, he was taken to a shower. He had a choice of hot or cold water. Only one spigot worked at a time.

He was given a brown jumpsuit, and someone else's stained underwear to wear.

Other youths have said they must take a shower daily -- when the showers work. However, the boys often go two weeks at a time wearing the same underwear, socks and jumpsuits because their clothes are not cleaned.

"It defeats the purpose of the shower to put on 2-week-old underwear," one boy remarks.

O&A staff members complained nearly two years ago to administrators that the boys' clothes were not being laundered for weeks at a time.

Chris discovered that when one toilet was flushed, the sewage often came up through the drain in the shower floor or into the toilet in the next cell. "The sewage would spill out all the time, and we'd be cleaning it up," he says. This has been verified by DYS as an ongoing problem.

Because the O&A center was built to hold 84 youths, but often held 110 or more, the boys slept on thin mattresses on the floor within arm's reach of the toilet and the sewage spill. "We were mopping it up all the time," he and other boys say.

"One kid who was in the cell had bleeding ulcers, throwing up blood real bad. I had asked for gloves [when he was told to clean up the blood], and they didn't have them or couldn't find them," Chris says.

For entertainment, the staff brought movies for the boys. "They were porno movies until the last week. One was Hoover Park, and it showed someone getting raped in prison. Then they got some orders from the head office, and we had to watch Disney," Chris said.

DYS administrators have written two memos demanding that staff members stop showing movies with full frontal nudity to the boys.

The threat of violence -- between angry teen-agers or between teen-agers and staff members -- was ever present.

Chris recalls a day when the 21 youths in his area were forced to drop their pants and underwear to their ankles for a strip search.

One boy refused, Chris says, and spat in a staff member's face.

"He was standing at B-4. The guard grabbed him by the throat, pushed him into the cell where there are no cameras." He says he could hear what sounded like a fight.

The staff members, he says, gathered around the door to that cell. "The next thing I heard was people saying, 'Man, you can't put your hands on a boy like that.'" This allegation has not been verified.

On March 16, Chris was standing at the staff desk outside his pod of cells when another boy walked up and began hitting him in the face. The boy threw a juice jug at Chris, then forced him back into a shower where he continued hitting Chris until the staff broke it up, records show.

The next day, Chris was talking to a teacher in the classroom when another boy "walked directly over and struck him in the face," according to an incident report written by a staff member

"He wanted to get involved with a gang. To get put up on a rank, he had to jump someone," Chris says.

On March 31, Chris and his cellmates were talking and "goofing off" after they were told to be quiet. They were written up by youth services worker Debra Rouse and put on "lock-down" -- they had no privileges and were not to leave the cell.

Someone in the cell yelled out that Rouse was a bitch and a whore.

The next night, Chris and one of his cellmates would discover the meaning of sheer terror.

It began during leisure hour on a Wednesday night. At first, Chris was puzzled when he was told to get his mattress and leave cell B-3.

Then, he learned he was being placed in B-1. As he approached the cell, the four boys began to laugh. They called him girls' names and told him they were going to make him "give good head" and "treat him like a girl."

A frightened Chris asked Rouse, the worker in charge, not to put him in the cell.

"This will teach you to f*** with a black woman," he quotes her as responding. She put him in the cell.

The boys began spitting on him. One rubbed his hand up Chris' arm and across his head, making lewd comments. Chris lay on his mattress by the door, hoping the boys would get bored with harassing him.

One of the boys urinated in the toilet and then waved his penis in Chris' face. They all masturbated and then threw semen-soiled toilet paper at him.

"All the time, I'd been informing Miss Rouse ... 'This isn't right. They're doing inappropriate things in here. They're spitting on me. They're calling me names.' ''

He said she warned him not to be so loud and disruptive, and to roll over and go to sleep.

Another youth services worker, Vernell Jones, walked through the pod area several times while Chris was pleading to be let out of the cell. Jones did not move the boy.

Then one of the boys in B-1 dragged Chris' mattress into the back of the cell.

The largest boy grabbed Chris and twisted a sheet around his throat.

"And they had their hand right behind my throat holding onto the sheet and they lifted me up [on his knees]. And that's when he put his penis in my mouth.

"When I realized what he was doing, I pulled back. I pushed myself back in his bed and then pulled the sheet off of my head and got away from him.

"I told Miss Rouse it was not right what they were doing."

Chris did not tell Rouse specifically what had happened.

"If I would have said something, everybody else would have heard, and they would have found out," he told investigators.

He says Rouse peered into the cell.

Chris pressed his face against the bars. "I had tears running down my mouth into the sheet." She let him out.

But Rouse did not take Chris back to his cell. Instead, she moved him into cell B-4.

Then, Rouse put Chris' cellmate into cell B-1 with the four teen-agers.

The cellmate told investigators he received similar treatment -- hitting, spitting, masturbating, but not sexual assault.

One of the boys threw a blue blanket over his head and tried to drag him away from the door. As he held onto the bars, the boy was hit in the back of the head.

Youths in other cells could hear the boy begging for help.

"I kept on asking her, crying. She still wouldn't move me," Chris' cellmate said.

She "said I deserved it for calling her names. She said, 'No. I'm a bitch. Remember? I can't move you.' "

Finally, she moved him. "I always get the last laugh," he quoted her as saying.

CONTINUED, See Part III

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