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State Disciplines 6 Following Probe Of Detained Teen’s Death

Tim Revell/The Columbus Dispatch via AP, File
In this May 18, 2004 file photo inmates sit in one of the cottages at the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility in Circleville, Ohio.

Six state juvenile detention agency employees were disciplined following an investigation into the death of an incarcerated 17-year-old last year, including two guards who failed to immediately let medical staff know the teen was unresponsive in his cell, the agency director said Wednesday.

Another guard was disciplined for failing to conduct security rounds and for sleeping on duty, although those lapses weren’t connected with events leading to the youth’s death. Two operations managers and a nursing supervisor were also disciplined.

A fourth guard who slept on duty early on the morning the youth was found dead resigned late last year ahead of any discipline, said Ohio Department of Youth Services director Ryan Gies.

The discipline included five day suspensions without pay for the guards who didn’t immediately alert medical staff. Other employees received “working suspensions,” which reflect serious infractions and remain on an employee’s permanent record.

“While a thorough investigation found no conclusive evidence that anything our staff did or did not do led to this youth’s passing, the lapses in our policies and procedures that I just described to you are simply unacceptable,” Gies said in a call with reporters.

In April, Gies said the agency had removed its former medical director, terminated the contract of the physician serving the facility where the teen died, and created the new positions of agency chief of health care services and a quality improvement manager. The agency is also adding one new nurse at each of the state’s three juvenile correctional facilities.

At issue is the case of Robert Wright, found dead on Aug. 31 by a guard who entered his cell at Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility to tell him it was time to take his morning medication.

Two guards seen in a security video released Wednesday investigate the youth’s cell casually and without any apparent urgency after he was found. They were disciplined for failing to immediately notify medical staff of an unresponsive youth; failing to immediately signal a medical emergency; and failing to immediately administer emergency first aid or CPR, according to agency records.

Wright had heart disease and also “amphetamine intoxication” at the time of his death, according to an earlier investigation by the state highway patrol, which said the levels of amphetamines were very low. Neither the patrol nor DYS were able to determine from where the drugs came.

Wright complained to his mother in an Aug. 18 phone call he wasn’t feeling well, and other youths had said “Wright complained of having periodic chest pains, headaches and also trouble breathing at times,” according to the patrol report.

DYS policy called for CPR to be performed within four minutes, but it took seven minutes before it was started on the teen, according to an internal investigation by the agency. It’s unclear the impact of that delay, since Wright’s body was cool to the touch almost as soon as he was discovered unresponsive.

Wright was serving a juvenile sentence for sexual battery out of Hamilton County. The Circleville facility houses just more than 100 young men.

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