District of Columbia Sued Over DC Youth Rehabilitation Services Abuse of Youth

For Immediate Release

For more information, contact:

Kristin L. McGough, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs

[email protected] | 202-319-1000


Tuesday, May 7, 2024 (Washington, D.C.) – Yesterday, a youth incarcerated at New Beginnings Correctional Center (New Beginnings) in Laurel, Maryland filed a lawsuit against the District of Columbia and nine employees of the District’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS). The youth, referred to as “K.P.” in the complaint, has endured significant abuse at the hands of DYRS staff.

In one particularly violent incident, six DYRS staff tackled the child—then sixteen years old and suffering from asthma—to the ground, slamming his head into the ground. The staff then piled on top of the child, forcibly restrained him, bit him, kicked him in the ribs, threatened to kill him, and placed him in a minutes-long chokehold nearly identical to the one that killed George Floyd. Facedown on the floor with hundreds of pounds of bodyweight pressing down on his back, K.P. struggled to breathe and believed, like Mr. Floyd, that he was going to die.

In the months after that brutal assault, K.P. remained at the mercy of DYRS staff. Because K.P. reported the incident to Disability Rights DC (DRDC), the District’s protection and advocacy organization for individuals with disabilities, one of the staff members that had tackled, choked, bit, kicked, and threatened to kill K.P. once again attempted to physically assault him. And later, another staff member followed K.P. into his room, blocked his exit, and initiated a physical fight with the child.

After K.P.’s report, DRDC initiated an independent investigation and, in November 2023, issued a scathing 25-page report condemning the staff assault on K.P. The report concluded that DYRS staff violated DYRS policies and D.C. law by inappropriately escalating the situation and eventually placing K.P. in a “disturbing and dangerous restraint” without adequate justification. “Fortunately,” DRDC concluded, K.P. “did not die. But he did sustain injuries and perhaps irreparable trauma from the event.”

What K.P. has endured in DYRS custody is shocking, but not surprising. The District knows that DYRS staff routinely assault youth committed to their care. But the District refuses to take steps to discipline, train, re-train, or supervise DYRS staff to prevent and deter staff-on-youth assaults. In the face of that implicit condonation of staff-on-youth violence, K.P. and the other children in DYRS’s care endure routine verbal and physical assaults from the adults entrusted with protecting them—and then watch as staff members throw reports of those staff-on-youth assaults in the garbage.

“The District knows that it is failing to protect the children in its care from abuse at the hands of DYRS staff,” said Kristin McGough, Supervising Counsel at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “We are proud to represent K.P. in his fight to hold the District and DYRS staff accountable for what he has endured.”

“This case is yet another example of the District’s failure to protect young people,” said Marja Plater, Senior Counsel and John E. Nolan Youth Justice Counsel at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “It is unacceptable that, at a time when they most need support and services to prepare for the transition back to their families and community, K.P. and other young people in DYRS’ custody are instead subjected to traumatizing abuse and neglect.”

K.P. seeks to hold the District and DYRS staff accountable for the unconscionable violence that he has suffered. He also hopes that his lawsuit will spur changes in DYRS’s current culture that condones staff violence against the youth they are supposed to care for and protect. He is represented by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs.

Read the filed complaint here and the report here.

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