Mullen now fears that if Randy is in the wrong place at the wrong time, “he would definitely end up going to a detention center” again.
[Editor’s note: The youth’s first name has been changed, and he does not have the same last name as his mother.]
Susan Mullen came home one day last March to find out that her son, Randy, had received a lunchtime detention. A month later, she could barely talk a court officer into letting her kiss her son goodbye as he was taken away to a juvenile detention facility.
Mullen, a single-mother who lives in Berkeley County, S.C., knew little about the juvenile justice system. For much of Randy’s life, she had dealt with medical and mental health officials seeking help for his behavior problems, which later were diagnosed as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiance disorder (ODD).
This story is based largely on information contained in e-mails she sent to Youth Today as the events were occurring.
Eleven-year-old Randy is introduced to the juvenile justice system, getting arrested on a simple battery charge for throwing rocks at another child. His mother is convinced the act stemmed from his ADHD and ODD, behavioral disorders he had struggled with since an early age. “He has had problems all through school,” Mullen says. Doctors have put him on several medications, including Adderall and Ritalin.
Randy picks up another simple battery charge at age 12. A friend with diabetes brings finger prickers used to test sugar levels into school, and Randy pokes another student with one.
Randy has turned 13. With help from attorney Keisha White, who charges Mullen just $25, Randy’s simple battery charges are finally dispensed with by a judge. Randy is placed on probation.
Fourteen-year-old Randy kicks a vending machine at his high school. A friend’s snack was stuck in the machine, and another teen’s kick failed to loosen it. With Randy’s kick, the glass front shatters.
The school refers the matter to the police. The police involvement means Randy has violated the terms of his probation.
Randy has seen a number of psychologists over the years, and Mullen now tries another one, Dr. Chris Fields, who puts him on a Vyvanse, a medication used to treat ADHD.
“A new kid,” is how Mullen describes her son since the switch. “He’s been a new kid since December of 2008.” He had been getting a steady dose of Cs and Ds in school; he now scores mostly Bs and As. Always an outstanding athlete, Mullen says, Randy now starts to flourish with the baseball team at Cane Bay High School in Summerville.
Monday, March 9: Randy’s hearing for breaking the vending machine is held in front of Berkeley County Judge Wayne Creech. The charge is malicious vandalism.
Mullen applies for the use of a public defender, which requires submitting a form with a nonrefundable $40 fee. After doing so, she is told she makes too much money to qualify.
“Funny how I don’t get any food stamps, no government anything. But now that I need help, I can’t even get a public defender,” Mullen says. “Something that my tax dollars pay, too!”
White, the attorney who helped Randy in the rock-throwing case, helps again, this time for $50. White advises Randy to enter an Alford plea, in which a defendant asserts innocence but acknowledges there is sufficient evidence that he’d be likely to be found guilty.
“I found out later that was the wrong thing to do,” Mullen says. “He was basically pleading guilty, even though he had several letters from other kids describing what happened to the vending machine. He wasn’t guilty of malicious vandalism; he was guilty of impulsivity.”
The judge places Randy on indefinite probation. The terms are severe: no unexcused absences, no tardies and no disciplinary actions until his probation officer, Sherman Clark, deems Randy ready for release. Any defiance of the order would send Randy to the Coastal Evaluation Center (CEC) – a secure facility in Ridgeville, S.C., about 20 minutes from his home – for up to 45 days.
Later, Mullen says, Clark reads the order and tells her it was “written for any child to fail.”
It takes Randy 11 days.
Friday, March 20: Randy gets a lunchtime detention for talking in math class. The school reports the detention to his probation officer. Mullen says Cane Bay’s assistant principal, Tim McDowell, told her he was unaware that a lunchtime detention would lead to lockup for Randy.
Wednesday, April 22: Probation Officer Clark informs Mullen that he is required to take Randy into custody. He and McDowell, the assistant principal, tell Mullen they don’t think CEC is necessary. Both have seen the behavioral improvements that Mullen saw; neither believe Randy will be well-served by the severe daily disruption of being locked up.
But neither of them can appeal to the judge to reconsider. The decision to request a hearing lies with the county solicitor, Helen Carroll, and Mullen asks her to do so.
Carroll sees little point. She tells Mullen that she had made such a request to Judge Creech in a previous case, to no avail. Mullen tells Carroll about Randy’s behavior problems and his turnaround since he started the new medication.
That does not change Carroll’s opinion. She tells Mullen there was no need to take it back to the judge; the judge had already put in the order that detention at CEC would be the consequence for Randy violating his orders.
“She acted exactly like he was any other kid,” Mullen says.
“She did state the juvenile was doing better since he had been on new medication,” Carroll said when told of Mullen’s account, “and I reminded her that he was on the medication when he received the referral. I also told Ms. Mullen to speak with her son’s attorney about her concerns.”
Probation Officer Clark declined a request to discuss the events with Youth Today.
Friday, April 24: Randy is taken to CEC. Unless Mullen can convince someone to reconsider the move, Randy could stay there until early June.
At the center, juveniles are allowed to receive visitors from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and can place one five-minute collect call each week. The behavior rules at CEC are given to each youth in the form of a handbook, and further punishment can be dispensed when youths do not adhere to those rules. The rules include not bringing any pictures or books from home.
Shocked that her son is locked up, Mullen begins to question every step she has taken thus far and to research ways to reduce the length of Randy’s stay at CEC.
Saturday, April 25: Mullen begins making dozens of phone calls, during work and after, to find anything that might help Randy.
She contacts the social worker assigned to Randy at CEC, Tom Robinson. Later, she calls him “one of the rudest, nastiest people I’ve ever spoken to.”
Robinson informs her that at this point, he doesn’t “know her son from Adam.” When she tells Robinson that Randy’s probation officer doesn’t think he needed to be there, the social worker snaps, “I don’t care what he says!”
At CEC, Randy sees a guard tell a boy to “shut the f*** up.” When the boy doesn’t, the guard slams him against a wall. When he tells his mother about this during a visit, she presses him for details.
“Mom, this is jail,” he says. “You’re not supposed to talk.”
Worried that she hadn’t obtained the best legal representation for her son, Mullen consults another lawyer. White, the attorney who had represented Randy, did not respond to requests to discuss this story.
A nurse at CEC tells Mullen to bring in Randy’s Vyvanse prescription; the state policy is to place youth with ADHD on Adderall unless the parent provides a different prescription.
Monday, April 27: Mullen reports the “shut the f*** up” incident involving the guard to CEC Administrator Loretta Bookard. “I never spoke the guard’s name, nor the name of the child it happened to,” Mullen says. “I expressed that I didn’t want my child’s name involved in this report. She stated that the child’s name is never included, never mentioned.”
It is Randy’s third day at CEC, but he still has not received the handbook that spells out the facility’s regulations.
Tuesday, April 28: Randy is approached by one of the guards, though the man is not the one Randy witnessed slamming the youth against the wall.
“He approached my son and asked him, ‘Did you report to someone that I hit you?’ ” Mullen recalls. Randy says no.
Mullen later says, “The guard told my son that his boss came to him and said that I reported that a guard had hit my son.”
During a class that day, Randy gets up to go to a bathroom just outside the classroom. His teacher yells out, “You MORON, what are you doing?” The teacher writes an “escape referral, which goes in Randy’s record.
If he had read the handbook, which he still hadn’t received, Randy would have known he was not allowed to use the teachers’ restroom.
Wednesday, April 29: Mullen has what she describes as another unpleasant phone call with Randy’s social worker about her son’s time at CEC. “Mr. Robinson was the nastiest person ever,” Mullen says.
She speaks again with Bookard, the CEC administrator, explaining her dealings with Robinson and asking for Randy to be assigned a different social worker.
“I asked her another million questions,” Mullen says. “The biggest question was, why do the children stay in this place for up to 45 days? If it’s just an assessment, why so long? And what do they assess? And who assesses?”
Mullen says Bookard told her the youths at CEC are essentially just waiting for a case worker to get them out. In many cases, a psychologist and a social worker may only see a youth once while he is there.
Bookard declined a request to discuss the case with Youth Today.
Bookard also tells Mullen that the guards are asked to assess the youths, and that the social workers assess parents, the probation officer and school officials to determine what kind of situation the juvenile will be returning to.
Mullen learns that release depends primarily on the court date: Until one is set, the child has to stay at CEC. So even if Randy got assessed on the fifth day he was there and his court date was not until a month later, he would have to remain at CEC for the month.
On the flip side, the assessment has to be completed by the court date, and Mullen figures that gives her some leverage. If she can get Randy a court date soon, the assessment will have to get done before that date.
The person she needs to speak with about that is Carroll, the county solicitor, who is to return from out of town in five days.
Bookard has Debra Vereen, who supervises the CEC social workers, call Mullen later. The call is for Vereen to do an assessment of the mother.
“A phone assessment,” Mullen says later. “She really got to know my family in 30 minutes.”
Asked if she’d be assessing Randy as well, Vereen informs Mullen that she is going out of town next week.
Thursday, April 30: Mullen gets good news: Vereen has completed the family assessment and conducted Randy’s assessment.
“They figured out that he had ADHD and ODD,” Mullen says. “They concluded he should stay at home with his mother and continue on probation.”
Saturday, May 2: Mullen visits Randy and speaks to him about his escape referral for trying to use the restroom.
On his ninth day at CEC, Randy receives a handbook on how to behave there.
Sunday, May 3: Mullen visits Randy and learns of new incidents. He tells her he was approached by a guard who said he had an important question to ask him:
“How does it feel to be bi-racial? How do you feel when you’re out with a group of white kids? If another bi-racial child approached you for advice, what kind of advice would you give them?”
Later that day, Randy is walking with other boys in line on their way to the cafeteria. When a boy reaches out to get some hand sanitizer, the guard in charge kicks him hard in the knee and slaps his hands down.
During the visit, Mullen meets with Randy’s teachers. “Really weird,” Mullen says later. “Kids range in age from 11 to 18, so the curriculum is set somewhere in the middle.”
Later, the guard checking Randy into the visiting rooms asks him, “Is your mom single?”
Monday, May 4: Mullen speaks to Clark, the probation officer, and tells him everything that went on the past week. Clark tells Mullen that next week, he will push for a court date. He says he cannot initiate that process this week, because Randy’s caseworker is out of town.
Monday, May 11: Determined that Randy will have proper legal representation for the crucial hearing, Mullen hires Brady Vannoy, from a local law firm. “Cost me $1,000,” Mullen says. “Unbelievable for just 15 minutes of his time.” Mullen is referring to the May 15 hearing at which Vannoy will represent Randy. The hearing would end up taking about 10 minutes, she says, and Vannoy has to contact Carroll and Clark beforehand.
Wednesday, May 13: Vannoy calls Mullen and says he is concerned about what she will say in court. “He told me that the solicitor and the probation officer were worried I was going to try to hurt their character in court, and that I was intending on airing all that has happened,” Mullen says. “He told me that if that was my intention, he would not be able to represent my son. So I told him I wouldn’t do anything until after Randy got out.”
At CEC, Randy witnesses another incident between an officer and a youth. All the kids are talking in their pod when they are supposed to be quiet, and a guard tells them to stop. The officer puts his finger in the face of one youth who keeps talking; the youth pushes the finger away. The guard then punches him in the face.
Friday, May 15: Randy is released after 23 days in CEC and more than two weeks after his assessment is complete. In court, Mullen is dismayed to see that her lawyer and the solicitor appear to be friendly.
“It was a joke,” Mullen says later. “My lawyer and the solicitor were like buddy-buddy the whole time. Gotta love the whole good ol’ boy system here!”
Despite the incidents involving guards that Randy witnessed, Mullen says the officers treated her son well. “One of the guards told me that he was a great kid,” Mullen says. A female officer told her that some of the male officers had started to mentor Randy once they saw him pitching during recreation time.
Randy will remain on probation until Clark, the probation officer, decides to release him from it. Until then, he has a 6 p.m. curfew every night.
The curfew has “been quite difficult to deal with, especially being he is 15 years old and wanting to hang out with his buddies,” Mullen says. “His probation officer told me that if I felt like it was OK for Randy to be out past his curfew, then it would be fine with him. But God forbid if he ends up at the wrong place at the wrong time, he would definitely end up going to a detention center.”
Randy is back at Cane Bay High School. He rejoined the baseball team and made the area All-Star team. Despite missing 17 days while at CEC, he passes into the 10th grade. He has not received any others orders pertaining to school behavior – the kind that earned him a trip to CEC for a lunch detention.
At a probation appointment in June, Clark tells Randy that he intends to use him as a positive example for other juveniles.
Mullen feels some bitterness that, even after hiring an expensive lawyer, Randy is still under such harsh terms.
“But I guess the good thing,” she says, “is that my son is out.”