Two top administrators at Shuman Juvenile Detention Center received one-week suspensions in March, the first sign of punishment amid allegations of abuse and misconduct that now have a judge's attention.
Shuman director William "Jack" Simmons took a two-day unpaid suspension last month and will take another three days off this month, according to records from the county controller's office. Deputy director Lynette Drawn-Williamson served her full five-day suspension late last month.
The records don't give a reason for the suspensions. Both came after a guard was arrested on charges he sucker punched a 16-year-old resident, which prompted state action and coincided with a county report criticizing the facility's management.
Shuman is the subject of investigations by Allegheny County, the state Department of Public Welfare and now Juvenile Court Administrative Judge Kathryn M. Hens-Greco, who says the allegations give new urgency to her planned inspection of the facility in East Liberty.
"It's all come together at the same moment," she said. "The question is, is this a good place for kids? If not, that report will come out and we'll look at how to improve it."
Later this month, the judge will supervise a team of 23 county officials and outside representatives tasked with touring the center, pointing out problems and suggesting solutions.
She's hoping to find a long-term solution for Shuman, which has closed wings amid a 40 percent drop in population.
The trip has been in the works for some time, but the judge said she can't ignore the report by county manager William McKain released in March, which relayed allegations of favoritism, fixed timecards and financial mismanagement at the facility.
"I think it's always really difficult to look at something from the outside," she said. "So somebody took an in-depth view, and I think that will be helpful."
Her assessment may coincide with a final judgment by state Department of Public Welfare officials, who said Allegheny County dragged its feet in reporting a child abuse incident at Shuman.
The state's investigation stems from the arrest of Ronald B. White, a former child care worker who police say slammed a youth's head into a metal door frame in January. Videotape shows Mr. White unexpectedly shoving the boy from behind and walking away, leaving him to be checked by another staff member, police said.
The Department of Public Welfare said the county waited four days to report the incident, a violation of state regulations. In a response filed Friday, Mr. Simmons, the director, said he had a good reason for the delay: Both Mr. White, 33, and the 16-year-old originally told supervisors the incident was an accident, he said.
It wasn't until an investigator watched the video four days later that members of management realized they needed to notify authorities, he wrote.
As for the department's second charge against Shuman -- violation of the facility's cardinal rule: Thou shalt not hit a child -- Mr. Simmons wrote he didn't believe the facility was negligent.
"The offender had the necessary training and indicated no prior proclivity to conduct himself in this manner," he wrote. "Striking a resident is not part of that training."
When asked to explain how he would make things right, Mr. Simmons promised he would retrain guards on avoiding child abuse and reporting it promptly. Donna Morgan, spokeswoman for the public welfare department, said the department will review the plan and tell the county if it is acceptable, likely within the week.
Service Employees International Union Local 668 agent Al Smith, who represents the Shuman child care workers, said he believes Mr. White is being prosecuted unfairly. The union is pursuing a grievance in the case, one of a dozen currently outstanding against Shuman.
By current count, three reports on Shuman may come due by the end of the month. For Judge Hens-Greco, the key questions are simple: Who knew what, and when?
"Things can happen," she said. "The question is, what do you do about it when it's brought to your attention?"
Andrew McGill: firstname.lastname@example.org First Published April 8, 2013 4:00 PM