A Western Maryland prosecutor praised yesterday three state boot camps that have been closed because of assaults against juvenile delinquents and dropped charges against one of the guards accused of the violence.
This came as a Baltimore attorney representing 10 other camp guards threatened to call Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend into court to prove that beating the teens at the camps was an "established government policy."
The prosecutor, Daryl Walters, criticized state and federal criminal investigations into violence at the Garrett County camps as a waste of tax money because sometimes, he said, delinquents understand only violence.
Told of his remarks, child advocates said they were angry but that given the lack of vigor in the prosecutions of the guards they were not surprised by his feelings -- only that he expressed them.
Deputy state's attorney in Garrett County, Walters said "a lot of good people" in Allegany and Garrett counties have lost jobs over allegations about the boot camps, "and I personally think the boot camp program was a good program."
Walters is reviewing some of the cases state police and social service workers have investigated for possible prosecution.
State police and child advocates have been frustrated with Garrett's prosecutors, saying privately that investigators have handed them rock-solid cases -- including medical evidence and corroborated testimony -- but have not seen any charges against the guards filed.
Last month the county's state's attorney, Lisa Thayer Welch, presented a grand jury with evidence of assaults but did not ask for indictments.
Since then, state police have begun working with the FBI to move cases from the county into the federal system under civil rights law. A federal investigation was begun in December, around the same time as the state probe.
The boot camps were closed in December after newspaper reports about the violence. Police investigators, social service workers and a task force appointed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening quickly concluded that guards had been assaulting teens at the camps for more than three years -- punching them, kicking them and slamming them to the ground, sometimes when the youths were shackled. Some teens have had teeth knocked out; others have had bones broken.
Yesterday afternoon, Walters dropped charges against Kenneth D. Craddock, 29, a guard at the Savage Leadership Challenge, one of the former boot camps. Craddock, a resident of Ellerslie, had not been indicted but had been charged by the Garrett County sheriff's office.
Craddock had been scheduled to stand trial yesterday on four counts of second-degree assault. He was not available for comment.
Second-degree assault is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $2,500 fine, but, among other problems with the case, Walters said, accounts from witnesses are conflicting. "This guy lost his job over this," Walters said. "He lost his chance to become a state trooper. Even if the charges are true -- and I don't know that they are -- what else could be done to this guy?"
Walters said violence anywhere can get out of hand and that he was not convinced crimes have been committed at the camps by Craddock or anyone else.
"Personally, I think it's warranted at times," Walters said. "Sometimes you have to use physical force to get results. Corrections is a nasty, dirty business. What are we supposed to do with these kids? Keep slapping them on the wrist?"
Walters' remarks infuriated child advocates, who have long been critical of the camps and demanded that Glendening close them after the first published reports of the beatings.
"His comments are completely outrageous," said Jann Jackson, executive director of Advocates for Children and Youth. "Maryland has child abuse laws, and it's possible to implement a use-of-force policy within a juvenile center that does not break the child abuse laws. It's his kind of thinking that shows how much work we have to do to change the culture in Maryland regarding our young people and rehabilitation."
Craddock's attorney, Stephen R. Tully of Baltimore, represents 10 other guards at the three boot camps who face possible prosecution.
He said the testimony of Townsend and former state juvenile justice officials, who were ousted because of the violence, would be important to show that any punches and kicks were not handed out by rogue guards but by state employees doing what was expected of them.
"If one person does wrong, it's an individual action. If everybody does something wrong, it looks like established government policy to me," Tully said. "It seems to me this was some kind of policy. You'd have to be pretty blind not to see that."
Tully said he would not have called Townsend in Craddock's trial, because the former guard denied touching the teens -- so policies were irrelevant. Craddock was charged with pushing one teen to the ground, causing a cut, and choking another.
Tully said if he has to defend other guards in court, he would not hesitate to call Townsend to testify.
Townsend would be called, Tully said, because she, as the governor's point person on criminal matters, was responsible for helping to formulate policy for the juvenile justice agency.
A courtroom appearance and questioning by a defense attorney would likely be politically uncomfortable for Townsend, an almost-certain candidate for governor in 2002.
Townsend has tried to fend off political damage from the boot camp dispute by saying that she and the governor were misled by juvenile justice officials about violence at the camps -- even after she had ordered it stopped.
Townsend's spokesman, Adam Gelb, said yesterday the lieutenant governor had no comment in response to Tully's plan to call her.