Report Uncovers Dozens Of Sexual Assaults At Devereux Residential Centers
PHILADELPHIA — It was just after dinner, on a cloudy evening in February, when a 16-year-old boy named Edward decided he couldn’t take it anymore: He left the cafeteria and walked quickly through campus, searching for someone to help him at Devereux Brandywine.
Behind him, Edward’s abuser followed in a van. The boy began to run.
Headquartered 15 miles outside Philadelphia, Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health has specialized in treating children with intellectual disabilities, mental disorders, and trauma for more than a century. Operating 15 residential campuses that serve 5,000 children every year across nine states, Devereux is the nation’s leading nonprofit health organization of its kind.
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Its motto: “Unlocking human potential.”
A shy 16-year-old from Clifton Heights, Edward had come to Devereux Brandywine, a campus in Glenmoore, four months earlier. Diagnosed with autism and developmental delays, Edward — his middle name — had spent his childhood in physical and occupational therapy appointments, learning to grip buttons and zippers, to plant his feet on the ground as he walked.
Now the boy darted toward a program supervisor named Shakira Wilson, standing outside a campus dorm in February 2018. Before the van could reach them, Edward went inside with Wilson. He paced her office, wringing his hands.
Wilson would later say she had never seen Edward act like this before. He had a reputation among staff as a good kid and a rule follower. He had even taken on a big-brother role to a younger boy in his unit. “What’s going on?” she asked him.
Like many children with intellectual disabilities, Edward had been taught to count down to calm himself. He braced himself to say aloud what the Devereux staffer had done to him:
“Five, four, three, two, one.”
At least 41 children as young as 12, and with IQs as low as 50, have been raped or sexually assaulted by Devereux staff members in the last 25 years, an Inquirer investigation has found.
Of those, 10 said they were assaulted at Devereux’s three campuses in the Philadelphia suburbs, while the others were abused at facilities in New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Connecticut, New York, and Arizona.
Devereux leaders, noting that a sexual assault can happen in almost any care setting, said that in the last two years they have increased safety and reduced risk by adopting a host of safeguards to prevent such abuse and hold staffers accountable.
Yet, between October 2018 and March 2019, three girls at a Devereux campus in Arizona were sexually abused by a male staffer in their bedrooms and the facility’s laundry room, they told police.
In December, at a facility in Texas, a Devereux staffer was charged with allegedly sexually abusing four children, including a 16-year-old girl who said he threatened to have her beaten up, and a 12-year-old who said he molested her several times.
And on that cloudy 2018 evening at Devereux Brandywine, Edward revealed to Wilson that a male staffer had been sexually assaulting him on campus for months. The teenager would later tell law enforcement that he was afraid to speak up, but knew he had to: The man had started abusing Edward’s 14-year-old “little brother” too.
Last year the federal government awarded Devereux a $40.2 million contract to house immigrant children separated from their parents at the border, on Devereux’s claim that it is “uniquely qualified” to detect and prevent sexual assault.
“We have the best management and control protocols in the field, from extensive staff clearances to detailed compliance programs, dedicated to preventing sexual harassment and abuse of children in care,” Devereux told the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement in its application for the funds.
Inquirer reporters interviewed scores of former residents, family members, staffers, attorneys, and law enforcement officers about sexual assault at Devereux. They reviewed criminal cases, lawsuits, medical records, incident reports, therapy notes, pay stubs, text messages and police interviews.
They found that Devereux’s programs had been hunting grounds for predators. Interviews and documents show that, despite bringing in $467 million in annual revenues, Devereux understaffed its campuses and failed to adequately supervise its patients and staff members, who all too often disappeared for hours and slept through shifts.
“Some of the staff would literally come in with sleeping bags, blankets and pillows, and a huge beach chair,” said Eric Heinbach, a staff member at Devereux Brandywine from 2017 through 2019. “Instead of doing night checks, they’d sleep and get paid.”
The overwhelming majority of the roughly 5,000 children housed at Devereux every year will never be abused by staff, many of whom care deeply for their “clients” and have worked hard to help them.
Yet when assaults did happen, Devereux identified risk factors that led to the abuse and identified potential solutions — such as increased training or employment screenings — only to abandon the initiatives for years, reporters found.
As a result, no child was off-limits to staffers who wished to prey on them: Even patients who came to Devereux for treatment of past sexual trauma were assaulted by staff. A 15-year-old girl in a Devereux Florida program designed for sex-trafficking victims said she was raped twice by a staff member in 2017.
“I went there to get help. I went there to try to help myself to get better,” said Hannah Rivera, now 18. “How many more girls are they going to let this happen to?”
In an interview last month, Devereux leaders said that since late 2019 they have taken aggressive steps to prevent sexual abuse as part of a reorganization under chief executive officer Carl Clark, who took the helm in January 2018. They said they have reduced opportunities for staff to be alone with children, trained employees to detect grooming and potential abuse, added video technology to better monitor employees, increased pay to attract more qualified staffers, and will use a new psychological test to screen job applicants.
“Most of the kids we care for have been traumatized in their life outside of Devereux and the worst possible thing is to have that occur while they’re in a therapeutic environment,” Clark said.
“It personally makes my blood boil more than any other thing to think that this happens,” he said, “and makes us want to do everything in our power to screen people out at the organization who go down this pathway.”
Devereux’s top executives, however, vigorously denied that its campuses had supervision and staffing issues. Senior vice president and chief strategy officer Leah Yaw said fewer children were assaulted by staff at Devereux than at similar facilities, but did not provide data to support that claim.
“This is not an aberration that happens at Devereux because of some kind of lack of control or structure,” Yaw said. “This is an industry-wide problem. That is not to excuse a single one of these incidents. We won’t do it. We won’t excuse ourselves from that responsibility. We wouldn’t expect you to excuse us. From Devereux’s perspective we are taking this on. We’re on it.”
Kathleen Dumitrescu, senior attorney for the Atlanta Legal Aid Disability Integration Project, who said she has sent her hardest-to-place kids to Devereux, wrote in a letter to The Inquirer, “My experience with Devereux is that they address concerns and/or incidents with transparency and accountability.”
Chad Maloney, a former Chester County prosecutor who brought numerous abuse cases against Devereux staff and now represents sexual abuse victims, including Edward, said he had found the opposite to be true.
“Too often, when a child is physically or sexually abused at Devereux, the individual responsible for the abuse is prosecuted and the story just ends — Devereux doesn’t change,” Maloney said this summer. “They don’t change how they hire, how they train, or how they supervise their staff or the children in their care. The victims change, the offenders change, but Devereux’s actions never do, and that’s why the abuse continues. It’s heartbreaking and it has to stop.”
Inquirer reporters found that Devereux took decades to reckon with supervision lapses that led to assault, a cycle well-documented in criminal and civil court records. At least 20 Devereux staff members have been charged with sexually assaulting children and related offenses. In November, a Georgia jury returned a $55 million verdict for a young woman who was raped by a staffer in her Devereux bedroom.
And in June, at a court hearing in Chester County, the story that Edward began telling Wilson in February 2018 reached a quiet conclusion: Robert Flood, 32, was sentenced to eight years in prison for his abuse of Edward, the 14-year-old boy and a third child, also 14.
Edward’s mother, LaTasha Hall, says her son has tried to kill himself several times since coming home from Devereux. He has punched walls, run away, even tried to steal a car. At the sentencing hearing, Hall told the judge how much she had hoped the institution would help her son, only to see it unravel him.
“People often say it takes a village to raise a child,” she said. Her voice broke. “That village was supposed to be Devereux.”
It was 1912, and Helena Devereux was frustrated.
A young teacher in South Philadelphia, she was drawn to her students with special needs. Falling behind in her colleagues’ classrooms, these same children flourished when “Miss D” employed individualized lessons tailored to their level of functioning.
Wanting more for these children than what the Philadelphia school system offered, Miss D cobbled together $94 to open the first Devereux residential campus in Devon, a small township in the Chester County suburbs.
“I think every child has a life force struggling toward self-realization despite any handicap of body or mind,” she wrote in her journal, “and given the right surroundings will grow.”
In the ensuing decades, Helena Devereux’s humble haven evolved into a veritable empire, receiving nonprofit status from Pennsylvania, partnering with prestigious universities, and expanding into California, Texas, Georgia and beyond.
By the early 1960s, Devereux was proudly serving 1,000 clients — including a troubled young man named Sylvester Stallone. And when Miss D passed away in 1975, Devereux had become the nation’s largest nonprofit residential treatment network for those with intellectual disabilities, nearly doubling its student body over the previous decade.
Seven states and 33 Pennsylvania counties — including Philadelphia, Chester, Bucks and Montgomery — now have active contracts to send children to Devereux’s local campuses, at a cost of as much as $84,000 per child each year. While some parents pay to send their children, Devereux receives about 95 percent of its revenue from government programs, including Medicaid.
During its astronomical growth, in 1984, the organization dedicated its ninth campus, Devereux Deerhaven, in a New Jersey town an hour outside New York City. But as girls with histories of trauma and abuse began to fill the 33-acre campus, clinical staff raised warnings that the company wasn’t attracting the right employees.
“The problem is that the salaries that we are able to pay our staff are so inadequate,” the campus clinical director told the Daily Record in 1985. Devereux pressed forward, teaching the girls to deal with their pain through programs involving painting and gardening.
Then, in 1997, a supervisor was walking a 13-year-old to the nurse’s station when his walkie-talkie crackled, and the girl began to cry. The voice on the supervisor’s radio belonged to a 30-year-old staff member. He had molested her, the girl said.
The man was indicted on charges of fondling or engaging in sex acts with nine girls at Devereux Deerhaven. Then police arrested a second staffer, accused of sexually assaulting four more Deerhaven residents. Both men were convicted.
“There is no excuse for that. It is a betrayal of trust,” one of the sentencing judges said. “They need help. That’s why they’re there. They don’t need sexual relationships with their counselor. Those scars on those victims will not go away.”
Deerhaven leaders said they were devastated by the depraved acts of two bad staff members. The Deerhaven officials planned to keep a close eye on new staff members, and give each worker “refresher courses” in recognizing the signs of abuse.
But then in 2000, a third Devereux Deerhaven staff member was charged with sexually assaulting three girls and later pleaded guilty to three lesser counts.
Altogether, police said 16 girls had been sexually abused by staff at Deerhaven between 1996 and 1999. Elsewhere in the early 2000s, at Devereux facilities in Pennsylvania, Florida and Connecticut, children were speaking up about staff raping and molesting them.
In a letter to staff members, the Deerhaven director cited “the age and architecture of the physical plant” and the “the ongoing challenges of staff shortages and critical incidents.”
After several meetings with Devereux leaders, New Jersey officials with the Division of Youth and Family Services closed Deerhaven’s doors, saying, “It creates too much risk for abuse or abuse or neglect.”
They did not blame Devereux for the lapses that enabled the sexual assaults.
Instead, they pointed to something else: architecture.
“The problem is with the buildings,” a DYFS spokesperson said at the time. “There are too many places where kids can be out of supervision.”
‘They would just disappear’
Jimmy Singleterry sensed an opportunity.
It was the evening of May 17, 2012, and Singleterry, 41, had been assigned to chaperone a floor of adolescent girls at a Devereux Georgia campus outside Atlanta.
Devereux would normally not have assigned Singleterry to the “Butterfly” unit, supervisors would later say. He typically worked in an all-male dorm. But because the campus was so short-staffed that day, court documents show, they didn’t have a choice.
Most of the 3- to-11 p.m. shift was uneventful. Singleterry worked the floor alongside a female staffer named Akeavia Mays. As the sky turned dark, the girls went to sleep.
But Mays did not notice when Singleterry took an unauthorized break. He walked outside, and orally raped a 15-year-old girl through her first-floor bedroom window.
Then, before the shift ended, Mays went to the bathroom and didn’t return, a not-unusual practice among staff there, she would later testify.
“At that point in time of my life,” she would say, “I was just clocking in and clocking out and getting the money.”
Singleterry entered the girl’s room, and raped her again.
For predators, it was easy to find ways to be alone with children on understaffed campuses with low-paid employees, The Inquirer found. Interviews and documents show that staff who came to work knew they could clock out early, take unapproved breaks or sleep through their shifts with little or no consequence.
“They would just disappear. Say they’re going somewhere and they’re coming right back and then they don’t come back,” said Olenette Hudson, a night-shift staffer at Devereux Georgia from 2006 to 2015. “They’d be gone for hours.”
Devereux executives denied that its campuses were understaffed and that employees shirked their duties.
Governed by a board of trustees, Devereux employs around 7,500 men and women at its campuses across the country. Most of these employees are called direct support professionals, or DSPs. With doctors and mental-health specialists also present, the primary role of DSPs is to supervise the children in their care. DSPs are not required to have a college degree or experience working with youth with special needs, although some do.
Split up into three, eight-hour shifts, beginning at 7 a.m., 3 p.m., and 11 p.m., DSPs are assigned a specific ratio of children, depending on the time of day and the special needs of the individuals. The goal is to keep these vulnerable children safe, and to prevent incidents like sexual assault.
Sarah Hammaker, a DSP at Devereux’s West Chester campus from 2016 through 2017, said walking into work each day was “so unpredictable.” Her ratio was supposed to be one to four, but sometimes she was assigned seven girls to supervise. “They wouldn’t tell us if we were understaffed,” Hammaker said. “We would just come in and sometimes there would be only one other person there, and we’d have to figure it out.”
Hudson said her ratio called for her to supervise seven children, but she would end up alone with as many as 20. Sometimes, Hudson said, 12 people would show up to work a shift that called for 29.
The problem got so bad, she testified in 2018, that DSPs were made to draw their names out of a hat to determine who would cover unstaffed shifts. “My name was getting pulled, and I would be the only one there, and I said, ‘Well, what happened to the rest of the (staff)?'” Hudson said. “‘How come I’m the only one working?'”
Supervision issues were so noticeable that Detective Stephen Jones with the Willistown Township Police Department met with leaders at Devereux’s campus in Malvern to discuss its staffing issues, according to his 2019 testimony for a lawsuit by a rape victim.
Asked about a three-year period ending in 2015, Jones said he responded to more calls concerning sexual-assault allegations from Devereux than at every other school or nursing home in his jurisdiction, “even if we added them up.” He said he asked Devereux leaders to address staffing issues that led to all kinds of problems but, at the time, they did not. “There’s a lot of incidents that may be preventable,” the detective testified last year.
In an interview on July 31, Devereux leaders adamantly denied that its campuses were understaffed or had any kind of supervision problem. Yaw, the strategy officer, said that cameras have been added to include areas like laundry rooms and porches, and new technology allows supervisors to ensure staff are on task at all hours.
“I would argue aggressively with the issue of falling way below in staffing ratios,” Yaw said.
Supervision is especially important during the overnight shift, when children with disabilities are asleep in their rooms. DSPs are required to check on them every 15 minutes, noting their activity in paper logbooks or with iPads or electronic wands.
Instead, it was not unusual for DSPs to sleep through their shifts or get distracted with their phones, and for their colleagues and supervisors to turn a blind eye, at least 10 current and former staffers said.
One former student said he watched a DSP bring a Playstation and computer monitor into work, then play video games for hours instead of checking on students in 2017.
In interviews and court documents, former staffers pointed to low pay as a reason for the misconduct. “Because of the type of work that the staff does, they get burned out. And the pay isn’t great, so you don’t get people in there who are professional,” said Tony Foster, a DSP at Devereux Georgia from 2011 to 2013, in a 2018 deposition.
On average, DSPs made $12.50 an hour in 2017, or $26,000 a year, Devereux officials said. In 2020, that increased to $14.86.
In recent years, former staff members said they were encouraged to work 16-hour double shifts to earn overtime. And because of the low pay, “everybody” who works at Devereux has a second job, Steven Rose, a former night-shift DSP at the Brandywine campus, testified in 2016 for a lawsuit. “You know, people want to do things, and I guess working there, they didn’t really pay enough for you to work just there,” said Rose, who was reprimanded at least twice for sleeping on the job before he quit in 2015, according to court documents.
Clark, the CEO, said that Devereux staffers caught sleeping through their shifts are fired. “We actually use a new camera system to identify staff who haven’t moved in x-amount of time and have someone verify that they are in fact asleep,” he said.
Hamidullah Lundy, a program supervisor at the Brandywine campus, testified for a lawsuit in January that he has caught staff “prefilling” in logbooks, rather than doing their 15-minute checks.
The staff now have iPads for the 15-minute checks, but because the Internet sometimes cuts out, they still use the paper logs too, the supervisor said. Lundy, who had worked at Devereux since around 2002, said he has written staff up but did not recall firing anyone for pre-filling logs.
“I mean, I guess it’s almost somewhat of an honor system,” said Lundy, who works a second full-time job at an alternative high school in New Jersey.
“You just have to trust that they’re not doing that.”
Love letter ignored
When C’Kenya Tanksley was 13, she got a tattoo of a knife slicing through a heart etched into her upper chest. It reads: “Even a destroyed heart can beat.”
The girl from North Philadelphia had been through a lot by then. Her mother was a heroin addict who would later die of an overdose. She started to run away, was put in foster care, then in a series of group homes and other placements, before a Philadelphia Family Court judge sent her to Devereux in Malvern in 2014.
On the cusp of 15, she quickly bonded with a 43-year-old staff member named Everol Brackett. He worked at another campus in Devon, but routinely picked up overtime shifts in Malvern. He seemed especially adept at soothing her meltdowns and controlling her anger.
She was flattered when he brought her gifts — an MP3 player, a necklace, a cell phone. He told her never to include his name in text messages — just his initials. They exchanged dozens of love letters.
Then a staffer found one of the letters on the floor near her room.
A Devereux program manager called a meeting with Brackett, Tanksley, her therapist, and another staffer.
But Brackett wasn’t punished. Instead, the manager told Tanksley to stop writing letters to Brackett — whom she knew as Mr. Everol — because it “could get him in trouble,” she recalled.
“And they told me to apologize to Mr. Everol,” she said.
Instead of rigorously investigating red flags, Devereux repeatedly failed to identify clear signs that a staffer may be grooming or sexually abusing a child, reporters found. The abuse often continued — or even escalated.
In 2010, when a girl at the Malvern campus confessed to a supervisor that she had a “crush” on a 26-year-old counselor, the supervisor told the man to keep his distance from the teen, court records show. Months later, the girl reported that the staffer had kissed and molested her — as her one-on-one aide, according to news reports of the girl’s testimony in the criminal case.
In 2017, when Flood was grooming his eventual victims at Devereux Brandywine, he talked openly about his own troubled past as a juvenile offender. None of his supervisors questioned those statements from Flood, who had committed an indecent assault as a minor, a court record shows.
Devereux leaders said they are implementing new trainings for all employees on recognizing red flags of sex abuse and identifying grooming behaviors. “It’s exactly the kind of thing we’re looking at, that we’re teaching and working on preventing,” Yaw said.
Staffers are now trained to flag coworkers who spend too much time with a particular resident, give gifts to the children, or show up after hours just to visit with them, Devereux officials said.
In virtually all of the cases examined by The Inquirer, Devereux staff failed to identify that children on campus were being sexually abused. Instead, it fell to the children with disabilities and disorders to report their own abuse, or the abuse of their classmates.
In Tanksley’s case, that alarm wouldn’t sound for months.
Emails exchanged after the love-letter meeting show that Devereux campus leaders were blind to the warning sign. Brackett emailed the manager and other staff, “Thanks for today Guys.” the manager wrote to six Devereux staffers: C’Kenya “acknowledged how her letter could be misinterpreted and was adamant that she views Everol as a father figure who is willing to listen when she is upset, nothing more or inappropriate….We have no concerns about Everol Brackett having any inappropriate intentions or actions regarding C’Kenya.”
“They put the whole blame on me,” she said. She denied referring to Brackett as a “father figure,” but called him her “favorite,” according to court documents.
A month after Tanksley was told to apologize to Brackett, she was home for Thanksgiving when the staffer asked her to send him naked photographs of herself.
On her next home pass, Brackett told her to meet him in Southwest Philadelphia. He took her shopping, buying her clothes and sneakers. He then drove the girl to an alley and sexually assaulted her in his car, before he dropped her off at a bus station to find her way home.
The abuse continued when she returned to Devereux, Tanksley said, under the guise that Brackett needed things from a locked supply closet in her bedroom or had to drive her to the nurse’s station, only a short walk away. He was alone with her almost every day, Tanksley said.
It wasn’t until the teen’s roommate told a therapist what was going on that staffers found her cell phone concealed in the battery compartment of a radio. It contained naked photos and explicit messages between the two.
Brackett, a married father with a degree in theology, is still serving his prison sentence, four to eight years, imposed in 2017. He did not respond to a letter from The Inquirer seeking an interview. But in a July 2019 deposition, Brackett said he was surprised Devereux officials — after finding the love letter — did not do more to detect his abuse or to stop it from escalating.
“They could have said, ‘You know what? I think you’re growing too close to this client, so I’m not going to give you no overtime over here anymore,'” he said. “In other words, they could have moved the glass from the edge of the table before it broke.”
In fact, Brackett said, “I believe that if Devereux had investigated the matter thoroughly with C’Kenya and myself, it would have allowed Devereux to see much more things that were happening on the campus that needed to be addressed and that I probably think still need to be addressed.”
Devereux’s chief operating officer, Rhea Fernandes, said children are no longer allowed to be alone with a staffer in campus vehicles.
Also, Yaw said, new policies would prompt any love letter to forever end contact between a staffer like Brackett and Tanksley: “It is part of the red flag cautionary training that we’ve implemented now.”
Tanksley still struggles to talk about what Brackett did to her. To describe how the abuse affected her, she once drew a sun that was being strangled by a hand. “That’s how I feel now,” she told a sex assault expert last year. “I am trying to figure out how to talk.”
Now 21, she works for a nonprofit in Philadelphia and has two young children. Her son has behavioral problems and a form of autism, but she is afraid to seek services for him.
“I think that something that happened to me could happen to my child,” she said. “It made me paranoid.
“I just don’t trust people.”
It was hardly the first time, or the last, that Devereux failed to act after being alerted to potential sexual misconduct.
When Devereux supervisors came up with ways to thwart abuse, higher-ups sometimes failed to follow through, interviews and documents show.
For instance, after Singleterry raped the 15-year-old girl at Devereux Georgia in 2012, the company filled out an undated document called “A Framework for a Root Cause Analysis and Action Plan In Response to a Sentinel Event.” In the seven-page document, Devereux identified the lapses that allowed Singleterry to rape the girl, as well as several “Risk Reduction Strategies” the nonprofit planned to implement.
About one-third of child sexual-abuse victims become “sexually reactive,” exhibiting provocative behaviors including flirting with adults. So Devereux officials said they would create a role-play-based training for its DSPs focused on “the risks of working with sexually reactive youth.”
Also in the document, Devereux leaders said they would develop a training video to address the supervision lapses that have led to sexual assaults.
A third “risk reduction” strategy identified by Devereux officials called on the nonprofit to consider adopting a program called the “Diana Screen.” Named for a girl who committed suicide after a group-home caretaker assaulted her, the screening method had been lauded nationally by researchers for its ability to identify job candidates at an elevated risk to sexually abuse children.
Devereux does conduct local and federal background checks of prospective employees, a requirement by state law. But because the vast majority of child sex abuse is never reported to the police, experts consider these criminal checks largely ineffective at identifying people who may have already abused a child.
Devereux had previously considered psychological evaluations of job candidates like the Diana Screen: in the late 1990s, when Devereux was reckoning with the abuse problem at Devereux Deerhaven.
The Diana Screen, when Devereux’s corporate officers were considering it, cost less than $30 to administer and took an average of half an hour to complete.
When the woman raped by Singleterry sued Devereux, her lawyers obtained the “Root Cause” report. At her November 2019 trial, they asked Devereux leaders about its recommendations.
The jury listened as Gwendolyn Skinner, the vice president of operations for Devereux, and executive director of the Georgia campus, said she was unaware of new trainings for staff on sexual reactivity.
As for the training video about supervision lapses, Skinner said: “I have not seen a video, no.” Former Devereux DSPs testified that they had never seen a video, and did not receive that training.
Finally, Skinner told the courtroom that Devereux leaders had decided against adopting the Diana Screen. The organization does not use any psychiatric or psychological testing of potential employees, she said.
The jury deliberated for less than an hour before it came back with a verdict for the woman raped by Singleterry: $50 million in punitive damages — a steep penalty intended to get Devereux to change its ways. This was on top of millions in compensatory damages already awarded to the woman for the assault itself.
“I’d like to tell you that Devereux will never forget it,” said Andrew Rogers, one of the victim’s attorneys, “but I think they really probably won’t care, to be honest with you, based on what we know.”
In the July interview with reporters, Devereux executives said they would begin using the Diana Screen within two months. They said they couldn’t explain why it had not been adopted since it was first identified eight years ago.
Similarly, leaders could not explain why risk factors for sexual assault went uncorrected at other Devereux campuses.
In 2018, Flood abused Edward and the 14-year-old in a walk-in closet in the younger boy’s bedroom at Devereux Brandywine. Because of the room’s layout, the inside of the closet could not be seen from the hallway where staff were tasked with doing checks.
Devereux staff had known for years that these walk-in closets could not be easily supervised and were used for sexual abuse, but left some of them accessible anyway, reporters found.
In October 2016, for two consecutive nights, a Devereux resident had lured his 13-year-old roommate into their walk-in closet, where he forced the boy to perform oral sex on him. “He asked me to come in there, but I didn’t know what for,” the boy later told police.
He told his mother, Holly Bolinsky, that the closets had been removed from many of the boys’ rooms. “And his and two other rooms were to be done next,” Bolinsky recalled in an interview. “Some of the kids were like, ‘Things have happened in there, so they’ve blocked them off.'”
A program director at Devereux Brandywine acknowledged in January that Devereux had removed many of the walk-in closets prior to the 2016 assault.
“Why were they removed?” he testified in January for a lawsuit. “To provide a better visual from the doorway.” He explained that Devereux did this by removing the walls that partitioned the closet areas. “Again,” he said, “you have a better line of sight.”
Yet Devereux allowed boys to live in the rooms with walk-in closets as they completed the removals at an unspecified pace. And so Flood took advantage of this in the early months of 2018, when he assaulted Edward and another child.
When the full details of the abuse came out at Flood’s trial in September 2019, Devereux could have acted to remove the remaining walk-in closets from the Brandywine campus.
But the program director said in January that at least one room in the boys’ unit still had the walk-in-closet. He did not express any urgency about it: “It just hasn’t been one that’s been completed. They go through a process, a review and approval. And so it will be done when it’s approved to be done.”
Despite working on the same campus as Flood at the same time, Eric Heinbach said he only learned of his former colleague’s arrest from an Inquirer reporter in 2020.
“We never had any staff meeting. We never got any letter in the mailbox,” said Heinbach, who worked as a DSP and fill-in supervisor. “There was no kind of sitting-down, or re-training. There was nothing of that sort.”
Fernandes, the chief operating officer, said that isn’t the case now. When an allegation of assault is made against a staffer, coworkers are provided the suspect’s name and told that the employee is not permitted to have contact with residents.
The memo does not include the nature of the allegation, she said.
‘I wanted to heal’
Zahara Greer came to Devereux looking for relief.
Growing up in Long Beach, Calif., Greer said she went to live with her grandmother after she was sexually abused. Then, when she was 13, a teacher’s aide in her special education classroom sexually assaulted her, court records show. Greer says she began running away, only to be sex-trafficked.
Her grandmother suggested she go to a Devereux campus in League City, Texas, in 2017. By that time, Greer — diagnosed with PTSD, juvenile bipolar disorder and depression — was 15 years old and suicidal.
“Honestly, I really wanted to get help there,” Greer, now 18, said in an interview. “I wanted to heal from all of the past traumas and get out of the home environment that I was never happy in.”
Devereux runs programs specific to sexual-abuse victims at at least five of its campuses. Called CSEC — short for the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children — these programs in Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia, Texas and Arizona are designed to treat the trauma of girls who have been trafficked. Devereux treats sexual-abuse victims outside of its CSEC program as well.
On its website — next to a “Donate” button — Devereux writes that these abuse victims “have very specific treatment needs that includes a protected living environment that provides a sense of sexual security and predictability, and treatment strategies designed to help these girls understand victimization and empower them to create a different life.”
But instead of protecting some of these abuse victims, certain Devereux staffers well-versed in the children’s files instead preyed on them while campus supervisors did little to intervene. At least six young women with prior histories of sexual assault said they were targeted by staff at campuses in Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas and Georgia.
Less than a year after Greer arrived at Devereux, a 29-year-old male DSP named Shailen Simmons was assigned to supervise her floor overnight alone, according to court documents and interviews. For months, he assaulted her in her bedroom, Greer alleged, and forced her to eat an orange to cover up the scent of what he did. (Police later charged Simmons with sexual assault of a child. The case is still active.)
In 2000, a 14-year-old at Devereux’s Malvern campus confided to a male staffer that she’d been abused by a relative; that DSP began molesting her and leaving used condoms on her window sill, Rachel Frey said in an interview: “I told them it was him, but they never made a report, ever.”
When asked how Devereux could allow for these abuse survivors to be revictimized, Clark called the instances “reprehensible.”
“We have served over 700 girls and boys who had been sexually-trafficked with the program. We’ve done a lot to confront that lifestyle and help kids reclaim their life,” the CEO said.
Added Yaw, “Those kinds of incidents are exactly what this new system put in place is to address.”
It’s hard to imagine a worse scenario than what happened to Hannah Rivera.
Rivera was 12 when a woman who was friends with her mother gave her alcohol, then pushed her into a room where the woman’s boyfriend raped her. The man became Rivera’s pimp, she said, posting her photo on Backpage.com, drugging her with Molly and Xanax, then leaving her in motel rooms for strange men to find.
In 2017, when she was 15, Rivera landed at a Devereux campus in Viera, Fla. “I went there to try to help myself get better,” Rivera, now 18, said in an interview. “And they knew why I was there. Everybody knew.”
And so she immediately became uncomfortable when a 24-year-old staff member named Michael Cadore took an interest in her, she said. She told the campus director that Cadore had patted her bottom one night. But, Rivera said, “Nothing was done.”
On a group outing to the movie theater, Cadore forcibly kissed her and molested her. Then one night, he pulled her into a campus music room and raped her, Rivera said. She cried hysterically, she says, and a few days later confided in a Devereux nurse.
But when the campus director called Rivera into his office the next day, “they were just trying to seem like it didn’t happen,” she said. He told her she might be “just having a flashback” to her previous sexual abuse, Rivera said.
She left Devereux a month later. More depressed than ever, Rivera fell back into trafficking.
On July 20, 2017, she recognized one of the men who came to the motel room. It was Cadore.
Cadore would later claim that she had asked him to join her, sending the address in a SnapChat message. But Rivera says he found her trafficking name, Daisy, in her Devereux file, then booked her through Backpage.
Through the hazy blur of drugs, the girl thought the Devereux staffer had come to rescue her. She stepped into Cadore’s red Buick.
At 1:20 a.m., local police pulled Cadore over for driving with his headlights off. Seeing a young, disoriented girl in the passenger seat, officers asked to search his cell phone. They found a video Cadore had just recorded, of him sexually abusing Rivera. He was charged with lewd and lascivious battery on a child. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of interference with custody.
Rivera shared her story with The Inquirer in February. A couple of months later, a pimp from her old life lured her back into sex trafficking in Miami, her mother, Neia Apostolos, told a reporter. “Once you have trauma happen to you,” she said, “that’s all you know.”
Rivera entered a new treatment program at the end of July.
“If Devereux had helped her and not had a supervisor rape her there,” her mother said, “maybe the cycle would have ended.”
‘Best in class’
Devereux has told the federal government it is “uniquely qualified” to care for society’s most vulnerable children and to prevent sexual abuse.
In its application to house immigrant children, Devereux leaders boasted of the CSEC program, writing, “Devereux specializes in treating children with extensive trauma and, often, with serious emotional and behavioral disorders, including children who have been commercially sexually trafficked. … Devereux has created the recognized best-in-class, whole-person-health treatment model serving this extraordinarily vulnerable population.”
Devereux leaders pitched staffing ratios. They touted well-trained and rigorously screened employees. And they promised nothing but sterling supervision: “In order to insure (sic) the safety of youth, it is critical that they be closely supervised at all times,” Devereux officials told the government.
Finally, Devereux leaders assured the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement that they were well-equipped to deal with any backlash.
“As a national children’s charity, Devereux has built an extremely robust fundraising and community/public/media relations program,” they wrote. “We are uniquely positioned to create supportive, welcoming and affirming programs and community supports for (unaccompanied minors), and to not only manage, but work to reverse, any community push-back to sheltering and supporting these children.”
Lydia Holt, a spokesperson for ORR, said in an email that it chose grant recipients that “have demonstrated child welfare, social service or related experience.” They must hold the relevant state licenses, and comply with federal standards for detaining immigrants.
And so Devereux now stands to open residential facilities for these young children in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Texas.
Three of the five centers — Texas, Colorado and Connecticut — are already up and running. Yaw, the strategic officer, said they have been an extraordinary success.
“The level of clinical and support work that they’re able to do with these kids in the short amount of time is incredible,” Yaw said. Its center in Pennsylvania has not yet opened, but it is planned for Devon. It would sit on the same site that Helena Devereux first opened her doors to a dozen young girls with disabilities over a century ago. A recent job posting said the “ideal” candidate will have a high school diploma and empathy, among other traits.
A nine-acre campus, 20 miles west of Philadelphia, the Devereux PA Stone & Gables program will have 40 beds for boys and girls as young as 12. Each bedroom will have a bed, a desk and personal storage space. A registered dietitian will be available to consult on nutrition.
“Within six months, if needed,” Devereux leaders wrote, “we also could provide services for pregnant and parenting teens.”
A woman named Stefani hears this news from a faraway state. Now 34, she never talks about what happened the summer before she turned 16, at Devereux’s campus in Malvern.
But she remembers it clearly: How, one night in August 2001, a 35-year-old male staff member pulled her into a staff room and raped her. Stefani — identified here by her middle name — was half-asleep and heavily medicated, but she grabbed his cell phone off the table, ran outside and called 911.
She remembers that Devereux officials promised her father that they would make sure nothing like this happened again. They pledged to create a special safety plan for the girl, court documents show. Police told Devereux that male staff should not be left alone with Stefani.
The Inquirer reviewed the safety plan that Devereux had promised Stefani’s father. It is a one-page form with her name written in the blanks, misspelled.
Less than two weeks later, Steven Kelty, a 42-year-old staffer, was working the overnight shift when he brought Stefani into the same staff room. He raped her, she said, while West Side Story played on the television.
She remembers stumbling back to her bed, shaking violently all night underneath her 101 Dalmatians blanket. This time, she vowed to tell no one.
She wouldn’t have to. The positive pregnancy test would.
Kelty would later tell a judge that he had been a drug addict for 17 years, that he had been high on cocaine when he raped Stefani, and that Devereux knew. “My employer was aware of my drug problem and was in the process of getting me help,” Kelty said in a letter from prison.
Stefani had come to Devereux in 2000, needing to process the sudden death of her mother. Now the teen girl shivered and vomited with morning sickness.
She didn’t want to have the abortion. She was Catholic. She spoke with a priest, who told her she would go to hell if she did so. Her father drove her to the local Planned Parenthood on the day before her 16th birthday.
The receptionist called her name.
For the past 18 years, Stefani has screamed in her sleep. She struggles to connect with therapists, because therapy reminds her of Devereux, and Devereux reminds her of rape. She is married, but has never had children, she says, because she doesn’t believe she deserves them after what she did at the abortion clinic.
In her closet, she keeps a drawing she made when she was 16. In the center is a heart that reads like a tombstone: “85 to 01.” The year she was born, and the year she was raped at Devereux.
“To me,” she says, “it was the year that I died.”
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