“It’s all a lot of baloney. It’s all unfounded.”~Carroll County Supervisor Gene Meiners
“It’s all a lot of baloney. It’s all unfounded.”

~Carroll County Supervisor

Gene Meiners
March 21, 2014

A juvenile detention center in Cherokee supported by Carroll County is on probation for a month because it kept a 17-year-old boy in leg restraints for nearly 48 hours and locked up in solitary confinement for nearly a week.

The Iowa Department of Human Services filed notice on March 3 that the Northwest Iowa YES Center will receive a provisional and not a full license to operate until April 1. The Storm Lake Times received a copy of the notice on Monday.

A joint investigation of the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals and IDHS found that a Crawford County boy who was at risk for suicide was left in a locked "control room" for more than an hour, violating rules, and was in leg restraints for up to 47 hours. Rules also state that a detainee should not be in restraints for more than an hour.

The report said that the incident occurred from Sept. 20 to Sept. 22, 2013.

The report also indicated that the boy was kept locked in his room for nearly a week when he was taken from the facility on Sept. 27. While in lockdown, there were several hours when nobody checked on him.

Management of the center, including the director and assistant director, said it was impossible that any child could be so treated. However, the director told investigators that she could not find documentation relating to the boy on her computer.

Later, the documentation emerged. The director told an investigator that she thought the daily activity logs had been tampered with. She said she was not at the center during some of the period in question.

Investigators interviewed several employees. They told the state authorities that they witnessed the boy in leg restraints during the duration of the 47 hours. They also reported that the boy was in lockdown unsupervised while YES Center employees hauled Mental Health Institute patients around.

At one point during the time frame the boy's lawyer tried to visit him. He was allowed to speak through a meal slot in the door. The lawyer said the boy was wearing no shirt, but he could not see if the boy was wearing pants or leg restraints.

Quoting the report, here is what led to the two-day lockdown:

"At 5:51 p.m. staff did a check on Child #1 in his room. At this time staff found Child #1 with one leg of his pants tied to his thigh and the other leg tied around his neck. His face appeared to be very red and he was grasping for air."

Staff freed him from the suicide attempt. He became combative, so the teen was placed in restraints.

It appears from the record that the boy was kept in the isolation room, or control room, from 6:01 p.m. to about 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 20. The boy was checked every five minutes during that period, documents state.

After that, he was returned to his locked room. He was offered a shower and clean clothes after four days in lockdown.

Despite being suicidal, no one watched the boy in his regular room from midnight to 7 a.m. on Sept. 22.

The boy told an investigator that he clearly remembers sleeping one entire night in leg restraints.

"Staff L went on to say he/she didn't think Child #1 had a blanket or mattress during either of these two nights and one night complained of being cold," the report states.

He was either in his locked room or the control room from Sept. 20 to Sept. 27, when the Crawford County Sheriff's Office came to retrieve the teen, according to the IDHS report.

"The Director stated she was well aware of the rules and length of time a child could be in mechanical restraints. She stated that neither she nor the Assistant Director would ever leave the detention with a child still placed in mechanical restraints. She said that if the restraints were on the child during the next 47 hours as documented, someone must have put them on the child without her knowledge," the report says.

The center is expected to live by its own rules in the future, according to the notice. The facility filed a plan of corrective action on Feb. 25. The plan was accepted by the investigating agencies.

The facility is a regional juvenile detention facility for suspected delinquents awaiting a court disposition. They have not necessarily been adjudicated to having committed a crime but they may be considered a threat to themselves or public safety. The center is supposed to be a temporary holding facility for counties that cannot afford the extra level of care that juvenile detention demands.

Two board members of the juvenile detention center in Cherokee defended the staff, management and operation of the facility after state investigators put the unit on probation for the month of March.

"Everything is solved. There was no basis for this. It's really well run," said Buena Vista County Supervisor Ken Hach when contacted by The Storm Lake Times on Wednesday regarding the Youth Emergency Shelter and detention facility that covers 14 counties in northwest Iowa.

"It's all a lot of baloney," concurred Gene Meiners, a Carroll County supervisor who also serves on the YES Center board. "It's all unfounded."

A representative of IDHS told The Storm Lake Times that the Cherokee center has provided a plan of action to the state correcting the cited deficiencies. When DHS is satisfied that the requirements are met, the center could receive its full licensure good for a year.

Hach has served on the YES Center board by virtue of his county supervisor job for the past seven years. He said he has always been impressed.

"The employees, the director and her assistant are just top-notch," said Hach, who is not seeking re-election this fall. "It's not an easy job."

The director of the center, Cheryl McGrory, has not responded to the censure publicly. Asked by The Storm Lake Times to explain the matter, she instead faxed a 14-page copy of another investigation of a juvenile detention center in Eldora from 2008 detailing some of the same problems. She has not addressed how the problems developed in Cherokee. McGrory told state investigators at first that she could not find daily activity logs on her computer relating to the Crawford County teen's stay from Sept. 20-27, 2013. Later, she said she found them. She offered that the records may have been falsified by someone other than her. She also said that if the boy were in leg restraints for 47 hours, someone must have shackled him without her knowing.

Meiners blamed the issue on "paperwork." He noted it is the first time in 23 years that the center has been degraded to a provisional license.

Other county supervisors held a different point of view.

"It looks like a month-to-month situation over there," said Buena Vista County Supervisor Don Altena, "and I wouldn't want to operate that way."

Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors Chairman Paul Merten sides with Altena. Merten serves on the board of the detention center in Eldora and has tried unsuccessfully to send Buena Vista juveniles to Eldora because it charges the county two-thirds less than Cherokee. At one point the Buena Vista supervisors refused to pay bills to Cherokee, which precipitated a lawsuit threat.

Merten said he has found that it is impossible for the county to dictate where juveniles are sent. The juvenile courts direct placement on recommendation from juvenile court staff. Merten said the county board is powerless to affect change at Cherokee.

He said that the center does not provide Buena Vista County with monthly updates or information.

Merten was caught unaware of problems at Cherokee until he saw a copy of the same report inspected by The Storm Lake Times on Monday.

He blamed a weak board, as did Altena.

"It's definitely the director running the board," Merten said.

"Board members can become complacent," Altena said.

Hach is a Republican. Altena, Merten and Meiners all serve as Democrats.

Merten said he offered to fellow supervisors to serve on the YES Center board before he decided to join the Eldora board.

"They told me that they don't want me on the board over there in Cherokee," Merten said, referring to other government officials.

Merten and Altena have been pushing to send short-term stays to Cherokee (up to four days) while longer-stay juveniles should go to Eldora. None have been sent to Eldora.

Buena Vista County Attorney Dave Patton explained that courts almost always will choose the closest detention center so a juvenile can remain as near as possible to his family.

The YES Center is on the campus of the Mental Health Institute in Cherokee. It is licensed for 15 beds.