Court docs detail investigation of juvie staffers

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Documents filed in a whistleblower lawsuit against the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections show what appears to be an inconsistent approach to investigating allegations of staffers behaving inappropriately with kids.

A group of current and former employees filed the lawsuit in 2012, alleging some staffers at a Nampa juvenile detention facility sexually abused incarcerated youths. Their lawsuit also contends the department is rife with cronyism and that managers failed to take effective action when one juvenile was caught inappropriately touching another. A few months after the lawsuit was filed, the detention center's safety and security supervisor was charged with sexually abusing a child at the facility. The woman, Julie McCormick, later pleaded guilty to felony lewd and lascivious conduct.

Department director Sharon Harrigfeld has said she's confident that the state's detention facilities are safe and that allegations of misconduct are appropriately handled.

But in recent months depositions have been filed in the case, including the sworn statements of Harrigfeld and Betty Grimm, the former superintendent of the Nampa Juvenile Detention Center. Those depositions show officials gave McCormick repeated warnings about inappropriate behavior. But it was weeks before police were notified and McCormick was put on administrative leave — that step only came after another employee caught McCormick alone in her office for two hours with the youth, according to the documents.

In her deposition, Harrigfeld says she first became aware that there might be problems involving a juvenile and McCormick after other staffers came forward with concerns. Among the concerns were that a boy at the facility might have a crush on McCormick. Some coworkers were also worried that McCormick had "boundary issues," Harrigfeld said, and that she might be spending too much time around the youth.

Harrigfeld and Grimm both said they first warned McCormick to avoid the youth and to stay out of the unit where he lived. But according to the documents, McCormick continued to be found hanging out in the youth's living unit and spending time with him. After an informal discussion, McCormick was given a verbal warning and later, a written warning. Still, the department's oversight of McCormick seemed to be largely based on Grimm watching her via security cameras. Rather than intervene if she saw McCormick visiting with the youth, Grimm would watch and then report it to other supervisors later, according to the documents.

The 15-year-old boy has since filed a tort claim against the state alleging he was sexually abused by McCormick in several locations at the detention center. The youth contends that McCormick took him to places where she knew there were no cameras to carry out the abuse.

Both Grimm and Harrigfeld maintained they took appropriate action based on the information that they had at the time.

"Because, quite frankly, I felt like I had done everything I could possibly do to prevent what happened," Grimm said.

Another employee was fired after he brought in food for some kids and was seen talking to them individually, Harrigfeld said. But other potentially problematic interactions between staffers and juveniles appeared to go largely uninvestigated, according to the documents. Department leaders consulted their legal department but took no other steps when they learned that juvenile who had just been released from the detention center moved in with a staffer, starting a romantic relationship.

Harrigfeld said that the pair's relationship wasn't investigated because by then, both were adults. Department leaders apparently didn't check to see if the relationship began when the young man was still a teen incarcerated at the detention center. There is a policy against staffers fraternizing with former juveniles, Harrigfeld said, but she didn't know if the policy was in place at the time.

"They were both adults and it — there wasn't any — there weren't any steps to take," Harrigfeld said.