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Friday, February 23, 2024
Feb. 23, 2024

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Prosecutors: Teens who fled WA detention center ran while taking out trash

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SEATTLE — Three teenage boys, all previously convicted of violent crimes, were charged Wednesday with first-degree escape, accused of fleeing a youth detention center near Snoqualmie over the weekend.

A 17-year-old and two 16-year-olds are accused of running from an Echo Glen Children’s Center staff member who was escorting them while they took out the garbage Sunday evening, according to charging papers. Echo Glen is not fenced, and incarcerated children must be escorted by a staff member if they go outside, according to the documents.

“Their method of escape was just to simply run away,” a King County detective wrote in court filings.

The younger boys had been serving time for murder at the medium/maximum security facility about 6 miles west of Snoqualmie in unincorporated King County.

One had pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for the 2022 killing of Anthony Pace, 54, and second-degree murder for the 2021 killing of Marc Anthony Valladolid, 22. The boy, who was 14 at the time of the killings, was convicted as a juvenile in both murder cases and as an adult for first-degree assault.

A judge ruled this year he would be held in a youth detention facility until the age of 21, after which he would continue to serve the remainder of his nearly 19-year assault conviction. In Washington, juveniles convicted of adult crimes serve their sentence with the state Department of Children, Youth and Families until they are 21 or 25 years old.

That boy ran the farthest of the three teens, according to the charges, reaching a road that would eventually enter a neighborhood in Snoqualmie.

The Sheriff’s Office took him into custody around 10:30 p.m., “deep in the woods” about a quarter-mile from Echo Glen, according to prosecutors.

The other 16-year-old — who has been convicted of second-degree murder, first-degree attempted robbery and two counts of first-degree assault with a firearm enhancement — was found northeast of Echo Glen, charges say. He gave himself up when deputies and a police dog confronted him, according to court documents.

Echo Glen staff apprehended the 17-year-old, who has been convicted of second- and third-degree assault, before deputies arrived, the documents say.

The teens appeared Monday before a King County juvenile court judge, who found probable cause to hold them in custody.

Though the three teens were quickly captured, staff at the youth detention center consider Sunday’s escape, the fifth from Echo Glen in the past two years, indicative of long-running staffing shortages and security issues, according to a union official.

Mike Yestramski, president of the Washington Federation of State Employees, which includes about 300 Echo Glen employees, said that staff members at the facility are “in danger,” blaming the escape on what he considers a lack of leadership by DCYF Secretary Ross Hunter.

Echo Glen had a 50% vacancy rate for staff as of this past summer, and the facility has had six superintendents in the last two years, according to Yestramski. He said that two employees were on duty in a three-staffer-minimum ward Sunday, and both have been on the job less than two months.

Jason Wettstein, a spokesperson for DCYF, said a critical incident review team composed of people outside Echo Glen’s management has been tasked with reviewing what led to Sunday’s escape. The agency didn’t directly address questions earlier this week about Yestramski’s claims.

In the most recent escape before Sunday, seven teenagers fled the facility in May after attacking a staff member and stealing her keys. According to the union, that could have been prevented were it not for staffing shortages and lack of training. Four of the seven incarcerated youth accused of fleeing the facility were later charged as adults in connection with the escape.

DCYF said at the time that Echo Glen would conduct a review and look for any needed changes. The facility, which is surrounded by wetlands, received $8 million in state funding this year to support security upgrades, including a perimeter fence.

“I’ve been hearing about this fence for 4 1/2 years so I’m frankly getting tired of the lip service of, ‘Oh, we’re going to do this,’ and it never happens,” Yestramski said Monday, noting construction isn’t yet underway.

In addition to the two escapes this year, six incarcerated people fled the facility in 2022.

One incarcerated child escaped that April and was taken back into custody shortly after. And five teenagers escaped that January after attacking staff members and stealing a state-owned vehicle, prompting the detention center to tighten security.

Employees were given electric carts instead of cars to drive around, and incarcerated children in maximum security were required to wear orange jumpsuits.

Two of the teens accused of escaping last weekend are scheduled to be arraigned Thursday, and the other teen’s arraignment is set for Dec. 13.

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