Sen. Harper hosts community forum on Woodland Hills

State Senator Thelma Harper and Department of Children's Services Commissioner Jim Henry address attendees at the community forum (photo by Jomilla Newsom)

State Senator Thelma Harper and Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Jim Henry address attendees at the community forum (photo by Jomilla Newsom)

Approximately 300 people filed into the gymnasium of Northwest YMCA in Bordeaux for a forum called by state Sen. Thelma Harper and Department of Children’s Services Comm. Jim Henry on Tuesday night.

The topic of discussion? The recent escape of 32 teens from the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center on Monday, September 1, and the safety of the community as well as the teens.

Thirty-two teenage boys escaped from Woodland Hills Youth Development Center by crawling under a perimeter fence. Two days later, a riot erupted as more than a dozen inmates broke into the yard wielding sticks and spraying a fire extinguisher. Two guards were injured. The facility houses 114 juveniles who typically have committed three or more felonies, according to DCS officials.

Since Monday all but two teens have been found. De’Mario Fisher and Kuyvonta Cain, both 17, are still on the run.

“My son is one of the kids on the run,” Wallace Nabaa, standing, told DCS officials. Turning toward television news cameras, he directly addressed his son, Kuyvonta Nabaa. “I love you, man. Turn yourself in.”

DCS officials, including Henry, spent more than an hour addressing efforts to make improvements at the facility. DCS is hiring more guards, upgrading the facility, consulting with national experts, and working with Metro police and the Department of Correction, Henry said. He asked for the community’s help in addressing the deeper problems that drive kids into the system.

“I’m for whatever it takes to get these kids back into their communities,” Henry said. “I’m not for looking them up. But we need your help.”

A woman who said she lived in a neighborhood next to Woodland Hills angrily questioned why police were not called sooner. DCS officials have said they waited nearly one and a half hours after the first signs of trouble to call police. She had some elderly neighbors, the woman said. Why hadn’t officials called police immediately?

The policy of the department until last week was not to contact police unless there was a known breach of the fence, Henry said.
One commentator felt like money was the issue and the audience agreed.

“What we need is more money to hire some workers,” he said, drawing applause. “We got to pay them.”

Henry said that was unlikely: “The easy thing for us is to request money. Let me tell you the reality. No taxpayer wants to pay more taxes.”

Before DCS called an end to the forum as people stood in line waiting to speak, another woman addressed the audience: “They told everyone they’re dangerous. If all of these kids are so dangerous, why did they run home?”

“There has to be something wrong with this facility,” Nabaa said.

After the meeting, Nabaa said he has not heard from his son and fears for his safety. He was due to be released from Woodland Hills this Friday.