Juveniles escaping Eldora facility attack, injure staff

ELDORA ? Four youths escaped from the Boys State Training School in Eldora after attacking and seriously injuring a staff member Monday night.

Another staff member who came to his aid wasn?t seriously injured, according to the Iowa Department of Human Services, which runs the school.

Authorities caught all four youths later that night.

Now the president of the union that represents Training School staff said civil suits from advocacy groups and an overhaul of public employees? rights have led to unsafe working conditions at the school.

The school is a structured setting that serves 95 seriously delinquent youths ages 12 to 18.

According to Human Services officials, the students planned the attack and escape, which they launched at about 9 p.m. Monday. They beat up one staff member, causing serious injuries, and a second worker came to his aid.

Staff fended off the attack, kept the students from taking keys to the facility and alerted security, according to Human Services officials.

The students then broke out a window at the cottage and escaped with staff in pursuit. Local law enforcement was notified, and two of the students were detained at 10 p.m. The other two were caught an hour later.

None of the students were injured in the incident, according to Human Services officials. No names were released.

The school has been at the center of recent complaints and lawsuits brought by advocacy groups challenging the use of restraints, solitary confinement and medications. On Wednesday, AFSCNE Council 61 President Danny Homan said the escape was indicative of the escalating violence that has become a dangerous trend as a result of the complaints.

?We have been warning that the culture created by Disability Rights Iowa at the State Training School at Eldora has become dangerous for staff ? This is caused by emboldened residents being told by DRI that they don?t have to follow staff directives and that staff are not allowed to touch them,? Homan said in a prepared statement.

?The witch hunts and constant lawsuits from the attorneys that make up DRI are making the State Training School at Eldora less safe for both residents and staff. When boys can escape after beating up employees, something is seriously wrong,? he said.

He said this was compounded by last year?s changes to public employees? rights that makes Eldora staff fearful of retaliation for speaking out on their unsafe working conditions.

A staff attorney for Disability Rights Iowa, Nathan Kirstein, said his organization wasn?t aware of Monday?s incident, and he said his group has never advocated the use of violence against staff.

?The extent to which physical altercations occur at the school underscores that it is the culture of the school itself that breeds violence. Repeatedly, boys with serious mental health needs are not getting the treatment that they need and are legally entitled to,? Kirstein said, responding to Homan?s comments.

In November, DRI and Children?s Rights asked a federal court to prevent policies and practices that violate students? rights.

The suit alleges no full-time licensed mental health professionals were on staff at school, and said employees relied on ?potentially harmful? psychotropic medications, solitary confinement and full-body mechanical restraints. The suit remains pending in U.S. District Court in Des Moines.

Kirstein said the suit?s goal is to ensure that the residents at the school are receiving the appropriate treatment.

?The relief that is sought through this lawsuit will ensure that violent incidents are reduced through following national standards for the delivery of treatment services to the youth at the school and national accepted standards of ensuring safety at the facility,? he said. He said the lawsuit is designed to promote an environment where both the youths? and school staff members? rights are respected.