The death of a Prince George's County student at a school for emotionally disturbed boys in May has been ruled a homicide, county police said yesterday.
Police said Carlton Eugene Thomas, 17, suffered cardiac arrest on May 14 after a staff member cut off his oxygen with a restraining hold. [Emphasis added.]
The completed police investigation has been sent to State's Attorney Jack B. Johnson's office, where prosecutors will decide whether to charge the staff member. The staffer has been on routine administrative leave with pay from the Edgemeade-Raymond A. Rogers Jr. School since the incident.
Police and school officials have declined to release the staffer's name.
Prosecutors did not return phone calls to their offices seeking comment yesterday.
According to police, the state medical examiner ruled that Thomas died of cardiac arrest that was "due to asphyxia from being restrained and an acute asthmatic attack occurring during a struggle."
County police had been waiting for the autopsy report before deciding whether to pursue the case as a homicide.
Officials at the Upper Marlboro school have denied that the staff member's actions led to Thomas's death.
Initial reports by police and the director of the school for Maryland students with special needs and emotional problems, indicated that Thomas, of District Heights, was being restrained by a counselor when he died.
Elin Jones, spokeswoman for the school, did not return phone calls to the school seeking comment yesterday.
Thomas's mother, Sheila Bracey, said in an interview in May that her son had been physically mistreated before he died. She said the 150-pound, 5-foot-9 youth appeared to have "been beaten up, and badly." [Emphasis added.]
Neither Bracey nor her attorney, Holly Parker, returned phone calls seeking comment yesterday.
James A. Filipczak, director of the boys-only, nonprofit school, said in May that the incident began as a dispute during gym class and that Thomas was one of four students ordered by faculty members to go into a nearby room.
He said the students were told to lie on their stomachs, a method used routinely to control students at the 74-student school. Thomas resisted, so a staff member stood behind him, Filipczak said, and wrapped his arms around Thomas until "he looked like he was settling down."
Several students jumped on the faculty member who was bending over Thomas, and "they all ended up on top of Carlton," Filipczak said.
Other staff members pulled the students off Thomas and the counselor, and one of them asked Thomas if he was all right, Filipczak said. Thomas said yes, the director said.
But moments later, Filipczak said, staff members realized Thomas was not breathing. Nurses administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation for about 15 minutes before paramedics arrived. Thomas was pronounced dead at Prince George's Hospital Center in Cheverly shortly afterward.
Thomas first enrolled as an Edgemeade day student in September 1999 with a diagnosis of attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder, his mother said. He became a residential student in November.
Her son had recently complained of physical abuse at the school, and Bracey said she was planning to remove him.
Since his death, other parents have said that their children were also physically abused at the school. The school has denied the allegations.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company