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Ohio: Teen's suicide attempt ignored by guard

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- An Ohio youth prison guard was fired and two others were disciplined after a teen offender's attempt to hang himself in a juvenile detention cell was ignored, according to an investigative report obtained by The Associated Press.

One guard, who was fired Thursday, saw the youth with a blanket around his neck, wrote "attempting to hang self" on a log and walked away, according to the report by the Ohio Department of Youth Services, which was released through a public records request.

A second guard who knew the teen was attempting to hurt himself walked away from the unit without checking on the youth, and a third guard acknowledged he knew the youth might be preparing to commit suicide but did nothing to intervene.

The youth, 19, was turning red and had trouble breathing but survived the Nov. 1 hanging attempt at Indian River Juvenile Correctional Facility in Massillon in northeast Ohio, the report said.

"The staff behavior was unsafe, unacceptable and callous," department spokeswoman Kim Parsell told the AP. "This kind of indifference to youth safety will not be tolerated."

The fired guard, Larin Feuerbacher, 44, of Mansfield, was hired in November 2007 and earned $36,000 annually.

Feuerbacher said in a phone interview Saturday he should have sounded an alert of a suicide attempt rather than note the information on the log. But he said he was alone at the time and wouldn't have opened the cell door because he said the teen was combative and had threatened him earlier.

Feuerbacher said his firing was unjust because the teen had a history of manipulating staff with alleged suicide attempts.

"It wasn't like I was trying to get this kid to kill himself," he said. "The youth was not stupid - he wants to try to manipulate the system to get what he wants, and he got it."

Feuerbacher told investigators he had had problems with the youth recently and that he didn't believe the teen's suicide attempt was serious. "He will tie things around his neck in order to get attention," Feuerbacher told investigators, the report said.

Guard Christopher Dawson was told by Feuerbacher that the teen was trying to hang himself but left the unit without checking on the boy, the report said. "I guess that I did not feel that the situation was as serious as it was," Dawson told investigators.

Dawson, 27, was hired in July 2008 and made $35,000 a year. He was suspended without pay for one day. A message was left at a phone listing for him.

Guard Merrill Wittmer saw the teen covering his cell window with paper and might have been getting ready to hurt himself but failed to immediately tell a supervisor, according to the report. Wittmer, 58, received a five-day suspension without pay. He was hired in September 2008 and also made $35,000 a year.

Ohio's youth prison system has struggled with violence for several years, including staff assaults on youth, fights between youths and several assaults on guards by teen offenders.

Wittmer and Dawson were both hired after a federal judge approved the settlement in May 2008 of a long-running lawsuit that alleged a culture of violence permeating the state's juvenile correctional facilities.

Ohio agreed to make widespread changes as part of that settlement, including hiring more guards and clarifying when and what type of force guards are allowed to use on unruly youth.

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Posted in: News by SoulRiser on January 22, 2010 @ 12:47 PM

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