‘Whoa! Easy there!’ Report alleges counselor repeatedly kicked California youth inmate

A counselor at a California youth lockup in Stockton last week repeatedly kicked an inmate’s leg until a coworker urged him to stop, according to a report obtained by The Sacramento Bee.

The alleged incident, which the prison system says is under investigation, took place at the N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility. Commonly referred to as “Chad,” the lockup houses 271 teens and young adults, some of whom are among the state’s most violent youth offenders.

The facility became nationally known for the “Chad Six” incident in 2004, after two employees were caught on video beating two young men. Four other employees were later accused of falsifying reports about the attacks. The employee alleged in the report to have kicked the inmate last week wasn’t one of the “Chad Six.”

Though the employees eventually were cleared and reinstated, the video footage helped prompt a national discussion about reforming California’s violence-plagued youth prison system, which is still underway. Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed transferring oversight of youth incarceration to the state’s Health and Human Services Agency to better serve its troubled population.

Dan Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, said the new report obtained by The Bee shows that longstanding problems in youth lockups continue to persist.

“None of this surprises me,” Macallair said. “Unfortunately, this is a part of California institutional culture. It’s more of the same. ... It just gets passed down from one generation of staff to the next.”

The report obtained by The Bee was written by an unidentified Chaderjian employee who responded to a report of a staffer being assaulted around 7:05 p.m. on May 30.

The author of the report wrote that when he or she arrived at the hall, a counselor there said an inmate — called a “ward” in the youth prison system — had spit on her. The woman who was spat on left the area, while three staff members responded to subdue the ward, whose name was blacked out on the document.

The author of the report watched through a window as the employees approached the ward who was on his stomach with this hands behind his back and his ankles crossed, according to the report.

As one of the guards approached, the ward began thrashing around, trying to evade them, according to the report.

As the officers tried to grab the ward’s legs, he began to kick, “making it difficult to be secured,” the report says.

The report’s author alleges a counselor kicked the ward “in the lower shin area several times.”

“At which time I yelled Whoa! Whoa! Easy there!” the report’s author wrote. The employee, identified in the report as “Mohammed,” stopped kicking, the report says.

A state prison system spokesman identified the employee as Abdulwahab Mohamed, a youth correctional counselor.

Mohamed has been a counselor at Chad for three years and four months, said Mike Sicilia, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Division of Juvenile Justice.

”The safety of youth in our care is a primary concern,” Sicilia said in an emailed statement. “As with all incident reports, we are currently reviewing the information to ensure staff followed proper procedures.”

Sicilia declined to provide information about the ward or his past offenses, and he didn’t respond to a request for further reports about the incident.

The California Office of the Inspector General, which provides independent prison oversight, said there were 128 use of force incidents at Chad in 2017, the most recent year available. Three of those incidents were considered “out of policy,” according to the Inspector General.

The altercation comes four months after the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a San Francisco based non-profit focused on prison reform, issued a scathing, 102-page report blasting the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for allowing violence to continue inside its youth lockups, despite more than a decade of court supervision and hundreds of fewer wards in custody than a generation ago.

The report said that the state’s youth prisons system “returned to its historical state of poor conditions, a punitive staff culture, and inescapable violence” that existed prior to 12 years of court oversight.

In response to the non-profit’s report, the corrections department said in a statement that its youth lockups have “been on the frontline of reforming the way juveniles serve their time through education, programs, effective treatment and mental health services.”

Nonetheless, Gov. Newsom’s call to transfer oversight of youth offenders to the Health and Human Services Agency will “build on the progress of the last decade and to continue to provide youth the treatment and skills that will allow them a successful transition back to their communities,” prison officials said in the statement.

In 2003, a prison rights advocate sued, alleging wards were being subjected to inhumane conditions and abuse.

The next year, the state entered into a consent decree, which expired in 2016, to improve conditions in its juvenile prisons. The decree included closer monitoring and court oversight.

The decree was issued 11 months after the Jan. 20, 2004 “Chad Six” incident in which a Chad employee was captured on tape launching repeated haymakers — 28 in all, according to investigators — to the side of the head of a ward while sitting on top of the handcuffed young man in one of Chaderjian’s day rooms. Another employee was seen kicking another ward in the head.

The two employees, along with four others who were later accused of filing false reports about the incident, were fired after a state senator released video footage of the altercation.

In the months that followed, all six of the Chad employees were reinstated. Their union presented evidence to an administrative law judge and the State Personnel Board showing two wards broke into one of the employees’ offices and attacked him, breaking his nose. That footage was not captured on videotape.

One of those fired for allegedly filing false reports was correctional counselor Linda Bridges. She is now superintendent of the Northern California Youth Correctional Center in Stockton, which includes Chad and another youth lockup.

The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice report alleges that in the years since the consent decree ended in 2016, conditions in youth lock ups remain as violent and dangerous despite the youth-offender population in custody declining by 93 percent since 1996.

The report alleges unnamed wards and employees told nonprofit interviewers troubling accounts of staff members beating offenders or arranging fights among the wards, including at Chad.