Rantz: 911 calls reveal panicked staff during juvenile ‘riot’ as state downplays incident

Aug 25, 2022, 6:55 PM | Updated: 8:01 pm
Echo Glen Children's Center (Photo courtesy of Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families)
(Photo courtesy of Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families)

A series of 911 calls obtained by the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH reveal the Department of Children, Youth and Family Service (DCYF) dramatically downplayed a riot at a juvenile detention center it operates.

Five juveniles at Echo Glen Children’s Center in Snoqualmie were responsible for the chaos. They tried to climb the fence surrounding the facility to escape and, at one point, staff thought one of the juveniles was “AWOL.” It was so bad that at one point, riot gear was suggested, according to 911 calls.

DCYF, however, did not call this a riot, nor did it acknowledge that juveniles attempted to escape.

Though a spokesperson acknowledged the juveniles “engaged in threats” and detailed some damage to facility property, the riot was merely labeled a “situation” stemming from juveniles who “refused to return to their rooms for evening bedtime according to current rules for the facility.”

Panicked 911 calls

An Echo Glen staffer called 911 in a panic on Saturday, August 20th, at 9:12 p.m.

“I’m reporting a riot at Echo Glenn Children’s Center. We need law enforcement back up immediately,” she said. “… I am requesting for security. They asked us to call 911.”

While speaking to the 911 operator, the staffer was also trying to coordinate with colleagues.

“I have to go. They need immediate assistance,” she said.

Before she hung up, she explained that, “we believe one of our kids has gone AWOL.” She did not have many details and disconnected to help handle the riot.

‘We don’t have any riot gear’

At 9:20 p.m., the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) called Echo Glen to report deputies were outside and needed to be let in.

“Are they still actively rioting?” the operator asked.

“Yes … we have youths that are in our exterior courtyard … and they are currently rioting and trying to, attempting to escape the back courtyard. And they are breaking exterior glass and trying to throw the glass at the staff. And then we have five that are in the unit that are down who are also banging out,” the staff member explained.

She went on to say the juveniles in the courtyard were “attempting to climb the fence and get out.”

At one point, there was a question if a K-9 unit was needed. But what the staff member thought they might need was riot gear.

“Okay, it sounds like we actually might need additional backup,” she tells the Sheriff’s Office. “When I went out to talk to the police, they said they don’t have any riot gear. When I asked him to assist. They’re like, ‘well, we don’t have any riot gear.'”

According to the 911 calls, Issaquah Police were called on the scene in addition to the sheriff’s deputies. A Washington State Patrol spokesperson confirmed it was on site as well.

DCYF downplayed riot

The most important details from the dramatic recordings were left out of the DCYF statement.

On Saturday evening at around 9 p.m., five residents at the Chinook building, a 16-person unit at Echo Glen Children’s Center, refused to return to their rooms for evening bedtime according to current rules for the facility. 

When staff gave a directive to return to their rooms, residents engaged in threats and caused damage to the facility, including breaking windows, furniture, and other items. Staff attempted de-escalation techniques, but were unsuccessful.

Damage to the Chinook building is still being assessed. Damage is concentrated in and around the Chinook building. Injuries reported during the incident were minor and consisted of scratches, none requiring external medical attention.

The situation required the support of local law enforcement and state patrol, and was contained that evening.  No youth escaped, and all youth were accounted for soon after the incident was resolved.

Spokesperson Jason Wettstein defended his statement to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

“It was a serious situation, as I noted, with threats to staff and damage to the facility. The incident involved five residents from one building that was contained in a relatively short time frame with help from local law enforcement,” Wettstein emailed.

Wettstein would not explain why he did not use the term riot or note the attempts to escape. He did not explain when asked why staff said 10 juveniles rioted, but DCYF cites five.

King County Sheriff’s Office drags feet

There are obviously some missing details. And a Public Disclosure Program Manager with the county says there are other calls that are not yet ready for distribution.

Was a juvenile actually AWOL? Did any juveniles make it over the fence and get caught? For how long, exactly, did the riot take place? The King County Sheriff’s Office could help fill in some details, but it refuses.

The KCSO, which is the investigating agency, continues to drag its feet in releasing any parts of the incident report narrative, citing concern over the privacy of minors and that information could jeopardize the open investigation. They anticipate releasing some materials next week.

Pierce County Sheriff’s Office is subject to the same privacy concerns as King County. But it only took them a few days to release an incident narrative concerning a 12-year-old they say was armed and found behind the wheel of a stolen vehicle. It even released body-cam footage of the incident.

How is an agency considerably smaller than the KCSO able to release information so quickly?

This is a matter of public interest

Echo Glen has seen its share of controversies this year.

In January, a group of five dangerous inmates were able to escape, prompting an urgent law enforcement response to find them. It took weeks to apprehend them. In April, another juvenile inmate escaped the facility.

There have been concerns over a lack of staffing and resources at Echo Glen since at least 2018. Now, we have a riot where up to five inmates attempted to escape? This is a matter of public interest that deserves immediate transparency. It’s about public and staff safety.

The KCSO won’t even provide a statement on the incident, instead leaving it up to the very department facing criticism for how it handles the facility to decide how to frame the story.

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Rantz: 911 calls reveal panicked staff during juvenile ‘riot’ as state downplays incident