Dozens of family members, friends and supporters of an East Baltimore teen who died at a school for juvenile offenders a year ago yesterday gathered in Westminster to honor his memory and call for justice in his case.
The rally in front of the Carroll County District Court building yesterday afternoon commemorated the death of Isaiah Simmons at the privately run Bowling Brook Preparatory School, where the 17-year-old lost consciousness while counselors pinned him facedown to the ground, restraining him for about three hours.
"This is a pretty difficult day," said Danielle Carter, Simmons' sister, to the crowd. Many carried signs that read "Justice 4 Isaiah, Justice 4 Our Children" and bore pictures of Simmons. "The lives of my family and I have been forever changed," she said.
She described the way her brother died, as a group of men re-enacted how counselors held him to the ground by each limb and applied pressure to his back.
Simmons had been at the school "barely two weeks" before the incident, Carter said.
Those acting out the scene quoted the words allegedly uttered twice by Simmons - "Let me up, I can't breathe" - as well as the counselors' response, "If you can talk, you can breathe."
After Simmons' death, officials banned face-down restraints at state-run institutions. Bowling Brook closed in March.
"Remembering Isaiah is bittersweet because remembering him always brings accompanying thoughts of the torturous death he suffered," Carter said.
Family and friends said yesterday that they also sought to draw attention to the case and the need for reform in the juvenile justice system.
Six counselors involved in restraining Simmons were charged with reckless endangerment in the teen's death, for failing to seek emergency assistance in a timely fashion. The counselors were accused of waiting 41 minutes to call 911, although Simmons was unresponsive and in need of medical attention, according to Carroll County prosecutors.
The state medical examiner ruled Simmons' death a homicide.
The counselors are scheduled to go to trial in February and May.
"Those responsible for Isaiah's death still walk the streets freely," Carter said. She added that the family hopes the U.S. Justice Department will consider filing additional charges.
Gerald G. Stansbury, president of the Maryland State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he was "very disturbed and outraged" at the sole charges of reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor.
"The family of Isaiah is not demanding more than what they are entitled to, nor are they asking for preferential treatment," Stansbury said. "They are simply asking for justice."