GOP leadership wants DJS secretary to resign
* Updated with responses from the governor and DJS *
Republican lawmakers are calling for the resignation of state Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Donald DeVore, citing his "lack of leadership" of the embattled agency. A teacher was killed at one of the state facilities last month, and a juvenile who'd been housed there is a suspect in the attack.
Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, minority leader of the House of Delegates, said he had a telephone conversation today with Gov. Martin O'Malley to express his concerns. He also delivered a letter to the Democratic governor. "The governor indicated he was kind of surprised" by the call but appreciated it, O'Donnell said.
Through a spokesman, O'Malley said he has "full confidence" in DeVore.
"Our department is in deep, deep trouble," O'Donnell said at a brief press conference this afternoon at the State House.
O'Donnell singled out as particularly disturbing the death of teacher Hannah Wheeling, 65, at Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George's County, and a recent U.S. Department of Justice report about staff-on-juvenile sexual assaults at Backbone Youth Facility in Western Maryland. "This cries out for a leadership change," he said.
DeVore told lawmakers in January that the sexual assault reports were "exaggerated." He has met privately with lawmakers about the killing but has said little publicly, citing the ongoing Maryland State Police investigation.
O'Donnell said DeVore, who has led DJS for three years, typically delivers "a response of denial to just about every criticism leveled" at the agency, though he said DJS under DeVore has made progress in some areas.
This is not the first time O'Donnell has asked DeVore to step down. In July, reacting to reports about escapes and assaults at Victor Cullen Center, another state facility, he wrote an opinion piece, published in The Baltimore Sun, calling for new leadership of DJS:
The Department of Juvenile Services is in chaos and requires a complete overhaul, starting at the top. The administration's actions in this regard should be shared with the public so we can gain some confidence that this problem is being acknowledged and acted upon. It is time for executive leadership and tough decisions at DJS. Our state deserves no less.
We are seeking responses from DJS and the governor's office and will update this post when they get back to us. Update: The governor's office has issued this statement:
STATEMENT FROM GOVERNOR MARTIN O’MALLEYUpdate 2: DJS has this to say (click to read entire statement):
Over the past three years, we’ve driven down violent crime in Maryland to its lowest levels since 1987, including a 46% reduction in juvenile homicides. Real progress is not achieved without the right leadership in place at vital public safety agencies including the Department of Juvenile Services. I have full confidence in Secretary DeVore’s leadership of DJS.
Secretary DeVore's initiative to create unprecedented levels of collaboration with law enforcement, including the Baltimore City Police Department, and other local authorities across the State has made a powerful difference not just in the lives of youth but in communities across Maryland. Secretary DeVore launched a bold vision of reform to make the juvenile justice system work for the youth and citizens of Maryland. This dramatic progress has been no accident.
O'Malley aides have alerted DJS partners to the Republicans' criticism, and agencies appear to be quickly rallying to DeVore's defense:
STATEMENT OF BALTIMORE POLICE COMMISSIONER FREDERICK H. BEALEFELD ON COLLABORATION BETWEEN THE BPD AND MARYLAND DEPT OF JUVENILE SERVICES
"Through our collaborative efforts with the Department of Juvenile Services and our criminal justice partners, Baltimore significantly reduced juvenile violence including a 45% reduction in juvenile homicides."
"This success would not have been possible without the unprecedented level of collaboration and cooperation with the Department of Juvenile Services under Secretary DeVore's leadership. Secretary DeVore is a vital partner in our efforts to keep children in Baltimore safer."