Answers demanded in juvenile center gun case

November 18, 2009 5:48:48 PM PST
The men in charge of the Harris County juvenile detention center faced some tough questions. A loaded gun made it past security, through a metal detector that wasn't even plugged in. That gun was later found hidden under a mattress. Today, the juvenile board demanded answers and wanted to know about potential security changes. A member of the juvenile center board said it is extremely lucky that no one was killed when a teenage smuggled a 25 caliber semi-automatic gun into the juvenile detention center. But they say it can't happen again.

Changes must be made after a 16-year-old smuggled a gun into the Harris County Juvenile Detention Center on November 9, in part because a metal detector was unplugged. That was made clear by the juvenile board today, grilling Executive Director Harvey Hetzel and Facilities Director Bob Husbands.

Hetzel told the board the metal detector was unplugged because it was malfunctioning. But he couldn't tell them how long it had been off or who unplugged it.

"I'm upset that this happened and I'm responsible for it," Hetzel said. "I hope that my job isn't on the line, but the bottom line is that I am responsible for this."

Hetzel did say changes are being made. That malfunctioning detector is now plugged in and pressed into service. It will be replaced tomorrow. It will be hard-wired so it can't be unplugged. The staff will review strip search and metal detector policies.

Someone will face discipline. Hetzel promised he will find out who unplugged the detector, how long it remained that way and who knew about it. The board wondered why those questions had not been asked already.

Detention officers are now using the malfunctioning detector, plus strip searches and wands to process juveniles into the detention center. Hetzel has two days to come up with answers before the board calls a special meeting. Hetzel himself, as well as Husbands, could face disciplinary action.

"It's unacceptable. I mean, there's no way around it," said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. "What's particularly unacceptable is here we are, going on two weeks after the event, and we don't have any real answers as to who knew what and when."

In the meantime, two detention guards are already suspended for two weeks without pay, in part because they became distracted during the strip search of the teen and missed the gun after he had gone through the unplugged metal detector.


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