Case Update

28 Apr Case Update

Palmetto Summerville Behavioral Health center did little to assist police

By Glenn Smith

Thursday, April 28, 2011

SUMMERVILLE — Police officer Trey Hardy raced to the teen treatment center eager to help find four runaways who scaled a fence and fled.

He pulled into the parking lot and told a worker to get someone who could provide some information on the missing youths.

And then Hardy waited.

Summerville Police Department released this dashboard camera video and audio of the first officer responding to the report of an escape by 4 youths at Palmetto Summerville Behavioral Health center on April 20.

“They don’t seem too concerned about it here,” Hardy told a fellow officer who radioed for a description of the missing teens.

It would be several minutes before anyone came out to talk with Hardy. And when they did, staff members struggled to provide basic descriptions of the teens and offered no specifics as to why they were being housed at Palmetto Summerville Behavioral Health.

Hardy’s frustrating encounter was captured in a police report and cruiser video footage released Wednesday to The Post and Courier documenting the police response to the teens’ April 20 escape from the 60-bed Midland Parkway treatment facility.

It wasn’t until the following day that police learned the teens had criminal backgrounds and violent pasts in their home city of Washington. When the information finally came, it was from Washington media, who called Summerville police after hearing about the escape, police said.

“We were learning from them what we had here,” police Sgt. Cassandra Williams said.

Williams said she was surprised to learn the next day that the teens had a history of violence. One runaway who remains missing had reportedly been charged in Washington with attempted murder. The staff made no mention of this, Williams said. “How could you not know what’s in your house?”

If officers had had all the facts, Williams said, they might have been able to get the teens back where they belonged that night, she said.

“I wish we had been given everything we needed on day one,” she said. “We can only act on what we have knowledge of and go from there. And we were not given all the information that night.”

Palmetto officials have not responded to repeated questions about the incident, citing patient confidentiality laws. The center released a statement last week saying it is “committed to providing the best possible treatment to its patients and takes their safety and well- being very seriously.”

The incident has sparked outrage in the community and calls for legislative change. The report and video released Wednesday illustrates the difficulty police encountered in extracting routine details from the staff of Palmetto Summerville Behavioral Health. The scene played out this way:

Hardy was called to the Midland Parkway center about 6:30 p.m. to check out a report of four young men running away from the facility. Once he got there, he had to wait 12 minutes before anyone came out to meet him.

When he finally met with a staff member, she provided “very vague” information. Staff could not provide a specific location where the four scaled the center’s 6-foot wooden fence or a solid time frame for the incident. Hardy was told they ran off while en route to the gym.

Staff also had difficulty providing clothing descriptions for three of the missing youths and had to call over to the nursing station to get height and weight measurements for the teens. Staff did not tell Hardy the teens posed a threat to the community.

At one point, he specifically asked why they had been sent to the center from Washington. “Are they criminal or mental?”

“A little of both,” a staff member replied. “They’re juveniles sent here because of psychiatric issues and they may have come here because they committed a crime.”

The only mention of violence came when a staff member told Hardy one youth had attacked a center worker, police said. He ran criminal histories on all four teens but found very little because they are juveniles.

Police later learned the teens had been committed to the center by District of Columbia courts under the auspices of the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Center. District officials described the teens as having violent criminal histories.

Dorchester County sheriff’s deputies rounded up three of the teens the next day. The fourth, 19-year-old Delonte Parker, remained the subject of a multi-state manhunt Wednesday with no known sightings, police said.

Also on Wednesday, a woman who allegedly was attacked and beaten by a 15-year-old from the center two years ago filed a lawsuit accusing Palmetto Behavioral Health of gross negligence and recklessness in the incident. She is represented by Mount Pleasant attorney Geoffrey H. Waggoner.

The victim, Toni Kucish, told police she was climbing from her vehicle on Oct. 12, 2009, when the teen started hitting her, knocking her to the ground. He continued to punch the 64-year-old woman in the head and shoulders while she was down. He ran off after she screamed for help but was quickly caught by staff members from the center, the police report stated.

Staff members told police the teen had slipped out a side door and run off after asking to get a drink of water. The teen told police he was angry with staff and decided to take it out on the first person he saw, a police report stated.

The lawsuit states the attack left Kucish with long-lasting emotional and psychological trauma, as well as physical complications. The suit alleges Palmetto failed to have adequate staffing, security and safeguards in place to prevent an attack by a client with a known propensity for violence and aggression.

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