‘Rare escape’ leads to security review of Kenai youth facility

  • Monday, November 10, 2014 10:45pm
  • News

State officials plan to review the Kenai Peninsula Youth Facility security policies after five inmates escaped following a riot that left two guards seriously injured Friday night.

Karen Forrest, director of the state division of Juvenile Justice, said she is “saddened” by the incident that took place Friday when seven juvenile prisoners “engaged in a plot to overtake the staff at the facility and escape,” according to an affidavit filed in Kenai Court Saturday.

All five of the escapees were captured by Saturday night. Kenai police and Alaska State Troopers captured three of the five prisoners an hour after their escape. The three were found hiding in a Dumpster in the Kenai Multipurpose Facility parking lot at about 9:20 p.m.

One of the three boys, Cody Rosenthal, 18, was taken to Wildwood Pretrial Facility where he was booked for riot, second-degree escape and second-degree theft. Rosenthal, who turned 18 in September, was housed at the youth facility for “multiple criminal charges,” according to the affidavit.

The other two juveniles, both 16, were captured Saturday in Nikiski and returned to the youth facility. Kenai police also arrested Sharon Berghone, 63, and Larry Crouse, 41, for harboring the two escapees. Berghone was charged with two counts of hindering prosecution in the first-degree, while Crouse was charged with one count of hindering prosecution. Both charges are class C felonies and Berghone and Crouse were taken to Wildwood Pretrial Facility.

Forrest said her department is immediately dealing with the aftermath and is taking a closer look at what led up to the situation, examining their policies and learning from what took place.

“The event was impactful to the two people injured, the parents, to those who responded and the youths themselves,” Forrest said. “We are working to respond and move forward and learn from the event. If there any practices that could help prevent this we want to know that.”

The riot started while the nine teenagers were involved in a game activity at the 10-bed facility on Marathon Road. After assaulting the two guards, a set of keys was stolen from one of the guards and five juveniles escaped through the front doors, according to the affidavit.

Two juvenile detention center guards were taken to Central Peninsula Hospital for serious injuries after they were attacked by several of the boys. One of the inmates placed a guard in a “choke hold and strangled him until he went unconscious.” Another prisoner tried to perform a choke hold on the other guard and when that failed, several of the teens physically assaulted him.

During the skirmish, the inmates took a set of keys from one of the guards and five boys escaped through the front doors. Two inmates were unable to escape and continued to assault the staff. Kenai police arrived and assisted the two guards to detain the remaining juveniles, according to the report.

After the first three were located, police say Rosenthal denied he was involved in the physical assault, but admitted he was involved in the escape plot. He used the keys to open two sets of doors to exit the building and the five separated into two groups, according to the report.

The Kenai facility, built in 2003, is the newest of the eight juvenile detention centers around the state. Forrest said the facility is intended for short-term service to house youths if they are a danger to the public or themselves. Typically, youths are placed in the center under 30 days, but some, depending on their charges, could be detained for several months, she said.

The guards are not armed and Forrest said she doesn’t anticipate a change in weapons policy.

Statewide there are 150 youth offenders between the ages of 12-20 locked up for a variety of charges, from assault to property crimes, she said.

Forrest said it is too early to change any security policies until she can meet with superintendents of the other facilities around the state to discuss their procedures. She said the Kenai facility was not short staffed and they will look to shift personnel around to make sure the Kenai youth facility is fully staffed while the guards recover from injuries.

While there have been other incidents of staff being assaulted by teens or escape attempts, she said it is unusual to see a group of this size plot to assault two guards and escape. In 1987, seven juveniles escaped from the Johnson Youth Center in Juneau, but no guard was injured in that case, she said.

“This is a rare event,” Forrest said. “To have a planned escape and assault two of the staff this is a very serious combination. It’s not something we’ve seen before.”

Kenai police Sgt. Scott McBride said the case is still under investigation.

Reach Dan Balmer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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