Police records from Oklahoma DHS youth homes detail criminal behaviors
Police reports from Oklahoma group homes contracted by the Department of Human Services to care for troubled adolescents in state custody show a pattern of violent outbursts, assaults on staff and vandalism.
One staff member at Marland Children's Home in Ponca City was assaulted by two teenage residents twice within a week, according to police.
A 13-year-old boy repeatedly rammed the male staffer's head into a door Feb. 17.
"(He) wrapped his arms around me and tried to lift me up," the staffer told police. "When he couldn't get me off the ground, he got hold of one leg and started pushing and pulling on it violently. Every time he pushed my leg backward, my head hit the door behind me."
Upset after a disagreement with other kids in her dorm, a 14-year-old girl punched the same male staffer on top of his head.
"I just wanted to be left alone," the girl told police. "I didn't have a wall to punch, so I punched him."
The staffer decided to press charges for assault and battery. "I don't have any visible injuries, but my head is a little sore," he told police.
After being processed at the police station, the girl was returned to the Marland home within an hour.
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Police called to group homes
There were more than 360 calls for police and ambulance service from Marland Children's Home during the first three months of 2017, records show. Police frequently responded to the home multiple times a day.
Many calls are to report youth who have run away, frequently for just a few hours, but there are also many reports of fights and vandalism.
Ponca City police typically detain children from the group home at the police station for an hour or two, have the child's guardian sign a promise for the minor to appear in juvenile court, and then release them back to the Marland home.
Marland is operated by a nonprofit that contracts with DHS to care for children with profound behavioral problems, substance abuse and psychological issues. The 44 children living there typically have been through multiple DHS placements in foster care and other group homes before arriving.
The Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth sent a letter to DHS Director Ed Lake and state lawmakers in February describing violent attacks on staff, hundreds of calls to police and children going AWOL from Marland and the Sequoyah Enterprises Inc. group home for girls in Chickasha.
Both homes are privately operated but contract with DHS as Level E homes to provide care to troubled youth who are often too violent or disturbed to be placed in other care settings.
Chickasha police would not release records for specific incidents at the Sequoyah home because they involve minors. Records they did release, however, shows a similar pattern of fights and children running away.
From Jan. 1, 2015 through March 26, 2017 police were called to Sequoyah 371 times. The calls included 195 for children leaving without permission, 38 for help with a "juvenile out of control" and 28 for assaults.
Phil Rhoades, owner of Sequoyah Enterprises Inc., said DHS now prohibits group home staff from restraining combative children by holding them down on the floor and staff are afraid of having an abuse complaint filed against them.
Staff are allowed to use something known as a "standing hold," — a kind of bearhug in which the child's arms are pinned against the youth's body — but only if the child is considered a danger to self or others.
"It's driving our communities crazy and it drives our police department crazy, I'm sure," Rhoades said. "If you can't manage the behavior effectively, then you are going to have those calls."
Marland officials declined to comment on the number of police calls to their home or assaults on staff.
DHS contends its new behavior program is helping reduce the number of abuse in state care cases.
New monitoring program
DHS said it has started a heightened monitoring program for Level E group homes that have the highest numbers of confirmed abuse and neglect cases. Maltreatment cases have decreased since it began the new monitoring program, officials say.
Both the Chickasha and Ponca City homes are part of the new monitoring program, said Jami Ledoux, DHS director of child welfare services. The homes were contractually required by DHS this year to switch to a new program called Managing Aggressive Behavior that does not allow staff members to restrain violent children by holding them down on the floor.
"Our work with them has been ongoing," Ledoux said.
From July to September 2016, DHS received 17 "substantiated victims" of abuse cases in Level E group homes, records show. Between January to March 2017, that number dropped to just one.
Jimmy Arias, program administrator for DHS, said many calls to police are to report children who have left without permission. The homes are required by law to report missing youth, even if the adolescents leave for just a few hours, he said.
"These facilities are not locked facilities," Arias said.
Sequoyah owner Rhoades said most of the adolescent girls missing from Sequoyah left to hang out with friends, or walk around the block and are back within a few hours, but staff are still required to call police.
"They will go to the convenience store and get a pack of cigarettes a lot of times," Rhoades said. "Our staff have to go out and find them."
Violence, vandalism reported
On Feb. 11, a 16-year-old boy in state custody took the steel lids off the Marland home's water meters and used them to smash several windows, records show. Later that day, he jumped on top of a Ford Taurus owned by the home, denting the hood.
Fed-up staff called police.
"We want (him) locked up," a staffer told police.
The boy was issued a citation for vandalism.
Police responded again on Feb. 14 after a 14-year-old girl shoved a female staffer and hit her with a chair. The girl was arrested on suspicion of assault with a dangerous weapon, but released to Marland again after a few hours.
Another Marland resident resorted to punching a 12-year-old girl after staff were unable to calm her angry outbursts.
"When I arrived, (she) was near one of the buildings and was shouting at staff members," a Ponca City officer wrote Feb. 17. "Another resident came walking over to (her) and punched (her) in the face."
Staff called police after the 12-year-old threw a propane tank and attempted to rip a rain gutter off the building. The girl also smashed the screen of a staffer's cellphone after the woman tried to make a video of the girl's behavior.
After police took the 12-year-old to the municipal jail, it was determined she didn't meet the criteria for inpatient psychiatric care, so she was returned to the home after a few hours.
Lisa Smith, executive director of the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, said the state needs to find better solutions to help troubled children in state care. The commission provides oversight for both state and private youth services programs.
“Do these facilities have the tools to deal with these kids? ... These kids are going to transition out and become adults," Smith said. "They need to have good independent living and transition services to make them successful adults — because they're going to be your neighbor.
"I believe we have a duty to these children that are in state custody — to keep them safe, provide them a good quality of life, and help them become a productive citizen."
Contributing: Staff Writer Jaclyn Cosgrove