CEDAR RAPIDS — A 16-year-old girl, who in a violent outburst sliced the neck of a Four Oaks treatment center employee earlier this year, says she feels bad about what happened and wants to apologize.
“I thought of him as a big brother,” the teen said Monday as she looked down, pushing her glasses up and tucking her arms tight inside her blue sweatshirt because she was cold in the visitor’s room at the Linn County Juvenile Detention Center.
“I’m sorry. I know that if someone had done that to me ... I would probably feel bad about them. I think about what I did every day when I get up.”
Anthony Haughton, the attorney for the teen — who is referred to only as M.R. in Linn County Juvenile Court records and proceedings — said the Four Oaks employee required 17 stitches in his neck. The girl was convicted of willful injury in Juvenile Court and has been at the detention center since April.
She is at the center of a debate about what to do with girl delinquents like her since the state closed its secure facility for girls in Toledo in 2014.
The Gazette is not identifying the girl because of her age and degree of her crime.
Sixth Judicial Associate District Judge Jason Burns has ordered Juvenile Court officers to find an appropriate place for the girl. But two weeks ago they said during a hearing there are no options in the state, and they are looking for an out-of-state facility.
Burns ordered another hearing for her Wednesday in Johnson County Associate Court.
Iowa no longer has a state facility for girls like it does for boys.
The Iowa Juvenile Home and State Training School for Girls was closed following accusations of unlawful restraining methods and of keeping girls in long-term isolation.
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Jerry Foxhoven, the new director of the Iowa Department of Human Services, told The Gazette last week there are too few delinquent girls to necessitate build another state training school. Girls needing that kind of environment likely would be placed out of state, he said.
The girl referred to as M.R. was removed from her Johnson County home when she was in eighth grade after striking her sister with an object. At the time she lived there with her mother, who adopted her as a baby, and two siblings. She was charged with assault in that case, Haughton said. She spent several months at Christamore Family Treatment Center in Mount Pleasant and was then placed at Four Oaks in Cedar Rapids, he said.
M.R. — who talks about playing with Sophie, a therapy dog who visits the center, and watching “Frozen” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movies — said she thinks about writing the Four Oaks employee a letter to apologize. She wouldn’t go into detail about the assault but admitted more than once her behavior was bad and she is remorseful.
Haughton said he isn’t excusing his client’s assaultive behavior but said she has mental health issues and aggressive behavior that have never been addressed.
“She needs therapy and the system is not providing what she needs,” Haughton said.
Kristen Roberts, Four Oaks chief advancement officer, declined to comment, saying it is policy not to comment on individual cases.
M.R. said she wanted to get out of the detention center but likes the staff and has enjoyed planting vegetables and picking fresh produce from the center’s garden, which the cooks use for meals. She said she doesn’t feel lonely being the only girl at the center because she has always had brothers. She has five biological brothers and four sisters.
The center’s population changes daily, a detention official said. There were two other girls at the center, but they have since left. There were 12 juveniles as of Monday. They have 28 beds but are staffed for only 21 youths.
M.R., who said she has a 3.5 grade-point average, said she wants to go to a “real” high school, since she will be a junior this year. She enjoys writing stories but thinks she wants to go into interior design someday.
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“I like happy endings,” she said. “I don’t like it when I don’t know how it ends.”
Her biggest fear is being sent out of state.
“My mom can’t visit me much here, so I don’t want to go out of state,” she said. “I miss watching her favorite movie — ‘The Sound of Music’ — with her.”
Haughton said he won’t accept the girl being sent out of state. If that happens, he said he would consider a lawsuit against the state for not providing a state training school for girls.
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