Originally created 02/05/06

Details of escape coming soon



Some lingering questions about how a pair of teens slipped away from Augusta's youth prison, apparently through a hole cut into a chain-link security fence, might get answered this week.

Namely, how did the hole get there, and what's been done to prevent another escape?

Even though both juveniles were captured in north Georgia within six days of the Dec. 1 incident, so far, Juvenile Justice officials haven't discussed details of the breakout.

An open-records request for internal documents was denied by the department's staff attorney, citing a pending investigation.

Spokeswoman Ericka Davis said in an e-mail Friday that the investigation is being finalized, along with recommendations.

Once Commissioner Albert Murray and Deputy Commissioner of Programs Services Thomas Coleman sign off, which should happen late Monday, Augusta Youth Development Campus Director John Brady can finally talk about what occurred, the e-mail said.

According to a report by the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, which was summoned after the escape, Erik J. Rosenbaum, 18, and Tyler Horn, 16, made a dash toward the back end of the campus at about 8:30 p.m.

A hole was later discovered in a section of fence near Phinizy Road, and one of the teens' jackets was found outside it.

Sheriff's Maj. Ken Autry said investigators assisted the YDC in the search but didn't look into the boys' method of escape.

In a Juvenile Justice incident report - the only related document the department has released - a correctional officer wrote that while he was moving a group of youths from the gym back into their housing unit, one of them stepped out of line.

As the officer and another staffer tried to retrieve him, two other boys ran off, the report says.

The officer said he chased the two but lost sight of them in high grass.

"Based on how the incident occurred, the staff did all they could to handle the situation," shift supervisor Lt. Gary Roane wrote in the report.

Two hours passed before the YDC notified police - Ms. Davis says because until then, staff members thought the youths were still on the campus.

The facility is situated on more than 300 acres in south Augusta off Mike Padgett Highway.

Hundreds of homes are within a mile radius, in neighborhoods such as Apple Valley and North View off Mike Padgett, Silvercrest off Peach Orchard Road, and the Butler Creek manufactured housing community off Phinizy Road.

The YDC specializes in treating Georgia's mentally ill and mentally disturbed juvenile offenders.

Both of the escapees were being kept in one of the campus's general population units.

Mr. Horn, from Dalton, Ga., has a lengthy record that includes stealing a car, multiple burglary charges, terroristic threats, loitering, disrupting a public school, truancy and instigating a disturbance at the Dalton youth jail that injured three other juveniles, according to Whitfield County Juvenile Court documents.

Mr. Rosenbaum, of Ringgold, Ga., has a more troubling rap sheet.

Along with auto theft, financial transaction card theft, simple battery and inhalation of glue, his record also includes charges of child molestation, possession of a pistol and carrying a concealed weapon, according to documents released by Catoosa County Juvenile Court.

During his time in Augusta, he racked up adult charges of public indecency and simple battery over his behavior at the YDC.

Four days after their escape, the two were found at a mobile home park in Murray County, which borders Tennessee.

Mr. Rosenbaum surrendered, but Mr. Horn fled.

Two days later, Mr. Horn was tracked by Juvenile Justice officers to a motel in Dalton and was apprehended by city police.

Ms. Davis, the Juvenile Justice spokeswoman, said both young men are facing felony escape charges but would not say where they are currently being held or what sanctions, if any, they face from Juvenile Justice.

Also unanswered is how the two got from Phinizy Road to north Georgia.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

Erik Rosen-baum, 18, escaped but was found within a week.

HOW ARE THINGS AT THE YDC?

The Department of Juvenile Justice denied an open records request for all its internal documents related to the YDC escape, citing a pending investigation, which makes the documents exempt under Georgia law. However, the department did release some recent reports on the campus's overall operations.

The reports show the YDC - which in November entered its second year as a state-operated mental health facility after being shuttered for most of 2004 - steadily making progress:


- The Office of Behavioral Health Services gave the YDC grades of 93, 93 and 95 in its September, October and November monthly reports, noting that the care provided is "generally good" and "in compliance with departmental requirements."

- Problems were noted in the suicide prevention process. A youth who was supposed to be under one-on-one supervision managed to cut into an artery, requiring emergency room treatment, the September report said. In November, another youth who was supposed to be supervised harmed himself behind a closed door.

- When the two boys escaped in early December, the YDC was in the midst of a spike in self-cutting incidents and youth-on-youth fights, monthly incident counts show. There were 60 self-cutting incidents in November

- The most the new YDC had seen since May, which had 70. November had the third-highest number of fights since the YDC reopened with 29, which trailed August's total of 37 and September's total of 31.

- An October e-mail from Behavioral Health Director Richard Harrison outlined the possibility of opening a new unit at the YDC, which could serve "youth who have significant problems with self-harm but who are not mentally ill or who are mentally ill but are so aggressive they place other youth on the mental health or shelter unit at risk."

- An on-site facility evaluation dated Dec. 30 said that within the medical team, "staff morale is down" because of turnover, but "overall, things are progressing."

- During the spring and summer, progress reports on staffing and training noted vacant positions for correctional officers and counselors, low morale, staff being moved around too much and "youth with too much idle time after school." By October, a memo to Gordon Fisher, assistant deputy commissioner over campus operations, stated that "Augusta has an adequate number of security staff to man the mandatory posts necessary for the operation of the facility."

- A July memo from Juvenile Justice Commissioner Albert Murray to Mr. Fisher urged moving the juvenile population up to 100 boys by September. "As you are aware, the re-opening of Augusta YDC was a budget priority and it is unwise for many reasons to operate the facility at less than near full capacity," Mr. Murray wrote. An October memo from Mr. Fisher to Mr. Murray reported an average daily population of 80 youths

- 20 below capacity. He cited ongoing construction and remodeling at the YDC, along with a lack of youths in the system requiring the specialized care offered at Augusta. To fill beds at the facility, an extra general population unit was opened, the memo said.