Homicide ruled in 4th death at troubled kids' facility
Boy, 16, asphyxiated in November after being restrained inside a closet (Owens had refused to show the staffer what he was holding in his hand, which turned out to be the cap of a pen)
By TERRI LANGFORD HOUSTON CHRONICLE
Jan. 7, 2011
Texas - The restraint death of a 16-year-old boy at Daystar Residential Inc., a facility for troubled children, has been ruled a homicide caused by "complications of mechanical asphyxia," according to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Science.
Michael Kevin Owens suffocated and died on Nov. 5 after a Daystar staffer placed him in a physical restraint inside a bedroom closet because he would not show the staffer what he held in his hand. Owens' death was the fourth restraint-related fatality to occur at Daystar or its sister facilities. Daystar is located 25 miles south of Houston.
The name of the staffer has not been released, and the case will go before a grand jury to determine whether criminal charges will be filed, according to Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne.
Owens' death occurred just days after the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services notified Daystar that it was on probation, and the incident prompted the agency to place the Manvel-based facility, for the third time, under the watch of a state monitor.
The agency is reviewing the autopsy report, which was issued to them late Thursday.
"We have been going through a very deliberate process of evaluating Daystar's state license, and this ruling is an important piece," said Patrick Crimmins, DFPS' spokesman.
Earlier this summer the Houston Chronicle and the Texas Tribune reported that Daystar staffers had once urged developmentally disabled girls to fight one another for a snack. The 2008 incident was one of 250 confirmed abuse cases involving Daystar and 79 other residential treatment centers.
Since that report, the state agency has not moved any new foster care children into Daystar. After Owens' death, DFPS officials began relocating Texas children from Daystar because of its probation status. The last Texas foster care child was removed from Daystar on Wednesday. Five other foster care children — all from California - remain there.
Use of restraints cited
Last month, the agency issued its first report since Owens' death. In it, the state monitor raised questions over the repeated use of restraints during the same behavior incident. Daystar, wrote monitor Jeff Enzinna, releases children after two minutes of being restrained to give them a chance to regain control. But if a child continues to behave poorly, the staffer restrains the child again.
In November, 14 restraints were reported at Daystar, occurring during seven separate incidents.
One child was restrained four times during an 11-minute period. Another was restrained four times in a 15-minute period.
"If these children had not been released after 2 minutes but were held until calm as DFPS regulations allow, the number of restraints would have decreased by 50 percent," wrote Enzinna.
Daystar attorney John Carsey did not immediately return a Houston Chronicle phone call asking for comment.
Texas shuts down treatment center for kids
Daystar loses license after teen's death is ruled a homicide
By TERRI LANGFORD
State child welfare officials on Friday shut down Daystar Residential Inc., a home for troubled youth, one day after a foster child's recent restraint death was ruled a homicide.
"Today, we have revoked Daystar's license to operate, effective immediately. The DFPS investigation found that this facility is just not safe for children," said Anne Heiligenstein, commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
The closure, which can be appealed, was precipitated by the death of Michael Keith Owens, 16, whose death in November was ruled a homicide on Thursday.
All Texas foster care children had been removed from Daystar, a facility once licensed to care for as many as 141 children, by Thursday. Five other children placed at Daystar by California authorities were moved elsewhere Friday.
The Manvel-based Daystar, in operation since 1995, has made millions of dollars over the years caring for some of the most troubled and mentally disabled foster care children in the state, many of whom were housed in trailers about 25 miles south of Houston.
It was one of 80 residential treatment centers, known as RTCs, across the state licensed to care for such children, who number about 1,600. Since 2006, RTCs have received more than $300 million to care for these emotionally disturbed or disabled foster care children.
History of problems
But Daystar's 15-year history has been problematic, particularly over the last year. In June, the agency confirmed that a 16-year-old mentally ill girl had been sexually abused by a Daystar staffer the previous January.
That same month, the Houston Chronicle and the Texas Tribune reported that Daystar staffers had urged developmentally disabled foster care girls to fight one another for a snack in 2008. It was one of 250 confirmed abuse incidents that occurred at Daystar and the other 79 residential treatment centers.
As a result, no new children had been placed at Daystar since July while DFPS investigated the home. The agency quickly hired Jeffrey Enzinna as a state monitor to report on Daystar practices. Once there, Enzinna found lax record-keeping and a one-size-fits-all type of treatment for children.
"From reviewing incoming documentation, my impression is that there was a frequent use of emergency personal restraint and emergency medications," Enzinna wrote last fall. "There also appeared to be no program-wide systems of analyzing the use of restraints or emergency medications."
On Nov. 1, after Enzinna left Daystar, the agency decided to place the facility on probation because of the confirmed sexual abuse allegation from the previous June.
Boy was holding pen cap
Four days later, the 16-year-old Owens, who had been diagnosed with a mood disorder, died after a Daystar staffer physically restrained him in a bedroom closet. Owens had refused to show the staffer what he was holding in his hand, which turned out to be the cap of a pen.
Ruled a homicide by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, the case has been sent to a Brazoria County grand jury.
In December, the Chronicle reported that information on restraints used on children at RTCs was paltry at best. At least 54 of the 79 RTCs provided DFPS with only partial information, and 17 of those had failed to submit any documentation at all.
This potentially dangerous technique has been used at least 44,720 times on Texas children living at RTCs from January 2008 through August 2010.
DFPS' letter to Daystar, which notified the home it was to close, cited the restraint issue as one of the key reasons, saying Daystar officials failed to monitor and apply physical restraints that "minimized the risk of harm to the child."
Phone messages left for Daystar administrator Cal Salls and the company's attorney, John Carsey, were not immediately returned. There was no answer at the home of Daystar owner Clay Hill.
3 other restraint deaths
Owens' death was the fourth restraint fatality to occur at Daystar or its sister agencies in Manvel and owned by Hill, of Sugar Land.
In 1993, 16-year-old Dawn Perry died of an apparent restraint applied at Behavior Training Research, a facility that voluntarily relinquished its residential license to DFPS in 1998.
In 2001, Stephanie Duffield, also 16, died at Shiloh Residential Treatment Center after restraints were applied. Today, that facility is still open in Manvel, owned by Daystar's owner, but does not house Texas foster care children.
In 2002, 15-year-old Latasha Bush died at Daystar after restraints were applied.