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Los Angeles

Juvenile Hall Review to Begin

Detention: Five escapes this year prompt hiring of Sheriff's Department to examine security procedures at three county facilities.

September 21, 2002|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stung by criticism of security lapses after a series of escapes by violent juveniles, Los Angeles County probation officials have hired the county Sheriff's Department to review security at its juvenile halls.

A Sheriff's Department team will examine security procedures and problems at the county's three main juvenile detention complexes--the Central, Los Padrinos and Barry J. Nidorf juvenile halls--where five teenagers have escaped so far this year, Chief Probation Officer Richard Shumsky said Thursday.

In a Probation Department memo dated Sept. 1, Assistant Supt. Cheryl M. Cooke said that a team of four deputies will be interviewing staff for their perspectives on operations and policies. In addition, inspections will focus on the exteriors of the detention centers, including the grounds, walls, parking lots and lighting, to analyze and minimize weaknesses, according to the memo.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors last month ordered probation officials to come up with a plan to prevent escapes while transferring teenagers who are tried and convicted as adults to County Jail.

Shumsky said the latest review was prompted, in part, by a July 31 escape in which three teenagers, two of them convicted murderers, broke out of the Central Juvenile Hall. Officials said that incident involved a gun that had been smuggled into the facility.

"We have asked for sheriff's consultation in this area," Shumsky said. "It just makes sense for us to be in contact with other authorities, so they can see things with fresh eyes."

In the July incident, Jose Argueta, 17, convicted in the execution-style murder of a gang rival, asked guards to release him from his room so he could get a drink of water. He was housed in a special unit for the most violent inmates.

Once outside, he produced a .45-caliber handgun and forced three guards to release convicted murderer Marvin Sandoval, 17, and convicted carjacker Fernando Nupiri, 18. All three remain at large.

A week later, a 16-year-old being held at Central Juvenile Hall in an armed robbery case escaped from custody while attending a medical appointment at a nearby clinic. The youth, Steven Frazier, is back in custody, officials said.

A Probation Department report said the Central Juvenile Hall escapes involved security lapses that included inadequate use of metal detectors and a ladder left accessible to those in custody.

In an earlier Probation Department report, officials found a range of security lapses at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, including the staff's failure to quickly alert authorities that Kenneth Gilliam, a 17-year-old convicted of attempted murder, had scaled a wall after breaking his dorm room window with a ball from a computer mouse.

That April report found that the hall housed its violent detainees in quarters with inadequate security, had improperly installed door locks and had an inoperable gate that allowed for escape.

Probation officials said they are remedying those problems.

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