BANGOR, Maine — A 16-year-old inmate at Mountain View Youth Development Center underwent surgery early Wednesday to repair a broken jaw he suffered during the latest in a series of “initiation” fights at the Charleston-based correctional facility, according to his grandparents, who are also the boy’s legal guardians.
“They call it a beat down,” Roger Ewer said, describing the July 21 incident that led to his adopted son’s injury as something similar to a fight club that pits young inmates against each other.
“It’s one on one,” his wife, Roxanne Ewer, added, recalling what the teenager told them. “One kid on one kid.”
Roxanne Ewer said her grandson Dylan Ewer first told her about being involved in the fights shortly after arriving at Mountain View in May. Ewer said she informed Mountain View staff on three separate occasions about what Dylan had said, including on Saturday, when he greeted them during their regular visit with remnants of a bloody nose.
The youth correctional facility in Charleston houses up to 133 detained and committed juveniles and young adults ages 11 to 21, according to its website. It has a staff of 171 employees.
A message left for Mountain View superintendent Jeffrey Morin on Wednesday was forwarded to Scott Fish, Maine Department of Corrections director of special projects, who confirmed that an investigation of the incident described by the Ewers is underway. Fish said he could not provide any details about the incident.
“All we can give you from the department is no comment,” Fish said. “That’s because of the age of those involved and there is an open investigation.”
The Bangor Daily News contacted the teen’s probation officer and Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office and both said that because of his age they could not talk about the juvenile or the case that put him in state custody.
The doctor who performed the surgery also was unable to speak with the BDN because the youth is in state custody, Chad Vance, a spokesman for Eastern Maine Medical Center, said.
According to the Ewers, Dylan, who is serving time for burglary and three car thefts associated with a two-week crime spree last summer, pointed to another boy in the room Saturday during their visit and told them the boy was the next person he was scheduled to fight.
“I told one of the guards what was going on and as we were leaving, a supervisor was coming in, so I told the supervisor,” Roxanne Ewer said. “I called the supervisor later … and he said he was still working on it. The next day another supervisor called me to say Dylan was at Eastern Maine [Medical Center] with a broken jaw.”
“It kinda sucks because they had been warned several times and they did nothing,” Roger Ewer said with obvious frustration in his voice.
The couple, who took their grandson into their home when he was 3 and adopted him when he was 5, went to Mountain View on Tuesday to get answers and eventually supervisor Donald “Bud” Dillon came out to talk with them, they said.
“He said he segregated two kids, the one who hit him and one who provided the space [for the fight],” Roger Ewer said.
The couple said Dillon told them that Mountain View has 72 cameras and their son was seen getting up and going with the boy who reportedly hit him out of camera view.
Dylan told his grandparents that it would have been worse if he didn’t go voluntarily.
“‘They would have dragged me in there and made it harder on me,’” the Ewers said Dylan told them and Dillon.
A message left for Dillon on Thursday was forwarded to Fish, who again had no comment.
While at Mountain View, another employee who had reviewed the surveillance tapes told the Ewers she could hear the juvenile inmates talking about the rules of the fighting match. She indicated that the initial review of the tapes showed the fighting involved almost everyone in Dylan’s section.
“Dylan called it an initiation,” Roger Ewer said.
“He’s got to be living in fear all the time,” Roxanne Ewer said. “I don’t understand, especially when they’re hurting each other, why [Mountain View staff] didn’t know.
A union official who represents corrections workers said staffing shortages are a problem at Mountain View and other correctional facilities in Maine, including Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland and the Maine State Prison.
Jim Mackie of AFSCME Council 93, which represents corrections and mental health workers in Maine, said Friday that Mountain View workers know about the investigation involving Dylan.
“They’re unaware of any sort of organized fighting, but if you don’t have the people, these sorts of things are going to happen,” Mackie said. “They’re predicting we’re probably going to be seeing more of this.”
Mackie said work conditions at facilities that are short-staffed are so bad that “people can’t take vacations. If you take a sick day, you get a letter. It’s a real problem.
“Now, we can’t be where we used to be, and this is the result,” Mackie added, referring to Dylan’s injury. “We don’t have the personnel to be everywhere and it’s going to continue.”
Fish said on July 30 that the Department of Corrections is hiring 30 corrections officers to work at the state’s adult facilities, at $32,000-$34,000 a year with benefits, and hopes to have them by Aug. 26.
Meanwhile, the Ewers fear for Dylan’s safety.
“He’s safe right now in the medical unit, but what is going to happen when he goes back?” Roxanne Ewer said.
Dylan likely will remain in the medical unit for eight weeks while his wired jaw heals, she later said.
“This kid has a year to go,” his grandfather said of Dylan’s sentence, adding he’s worried about continued fighting or retribution from his son’s fellow inmates. He said he would like his son to be given house arrest for the remainder of his time, with an ankle bracelet so the state knows his whereabouts.
The couple said that Dylan has been given a number of chances to serve his time outside the facility and was even placed in two other juvenile programs, including the Summit View counseling program in Bangor, but he was not successful at either and was sent to Mountain View as a consequence. He left the second facility for 36 hours without permission and spent the time doing street drugs, his parents said.
He also has been involved in at least two incidents at Mountain View, one that involved him hitting a fellow inmate with a cafeteria tray and another incident in which he pushed another inmate, the Ewers said.
Problems of inmate violence at the former Maine Youth Center in South Portland in the 1990s helped lead to the creation of Mountain View, according to BDN archives. Conditions at the southern Maine facility resulted in major reforms to youth corrections under then-Gov. Angus King. By 2002, the former Northern Maine Juvenile Detention Facility in Charleston had been expanded and renamed Mountain View and the South Portland facility was refurbished and renamed the Long Creek Youth Development Center.
When Dylan returned to Mountain View from the hospital on Monday to await his Wednesday surgery, the staff at the youth facility, “all went in and apologized to him,” his grandmother said.
Dylan, who has 13 months left on his sentence, was hit so hard the impacts “broke both sides of his jaw” and required a metal plate to be inserted to stabilize it, the Ewers said.
“He’s in there for breaking the law, but he doesn’t deserve to be in fear all the time,” Roxanne Ewer said. “Something has to be done to change that situation up there.”
“If nothing is done, it’s going to happen again to another kid,” Roger Ewer said.
Correction: This story has been updated to clarify that corrections officers to be hired by the Department of Corrections will work at adult facilities. Salary information has also been updated with new information provided by the department.