Eight former employees of a program serving troubled youths in state custody have been charged with assaulting male teens in their care as punishment for poor behavior, prosecutors said in court Wednesday.
As WBUR reported in April, the program, Casa Isla, which was run out of Boston's Long Island by Volunteers of America, Massachusetts, was shut down last year amid allegations that the workers mistreated clients. The clients had been committed to the state's Department of Youth Services.
The former staffers are accused of striking teens in the bare buttocks with an orange DYS sandal during a humiliating discipline ritual that came to be known as "orange chicken," prosecutors said at an arraignment Wednesday.
Prosecutors are charging each of the ex-staffers with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. Several face additional charges, including threats to commit a crime and witness intimidation.
"We are deeply troubled by this incident," a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services said. The agency oversees youth services. "DYS has increased its monitoring visits and program reviews to ensure that we are providing quality services, and that youth are being treated in a safe and respectful manner."
Seven of the ex-staffers were released on personal recognizance after pleading not guilty at their arraignments Wednesday. The eighth individual is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday.
"We are cooperating with authorities in every way we can, including turning over 2,300 hours of security camera footage," a Volunteers of America, Massachusetts spokeswoman Stephanie Paauwe said in a statement.
The ex-staffers are Joseph Cintolo, 26, of Quincy; Ainsley Laroche, 40, of Roxbury; Hermano Joseph, 24, of Taunton; Raymond Pizarro, 24, of Hyde Park; Wilkens Jeanty, 40, of Quincy; Emmanuel Fedna, 30, of Everett; Silvio Depina, 37, of Brockton; and Jalise Andrade, 34, of Brockton.
Joseph, Andrade, Depina and Laroche each face threats and witness intimidation charges, with Joseph and Depina facing additional charges of assault and battery and indecent assault and battery over 14.
"It is hard for us to imagine that this could have been occurring given the rigorous oversight by experienced and dedicated caregivers at Casa Isla," Paauwe added in the Volunteers of America, Massachusetts statement. "But it is our collective duty to find out what happened and we hope that every step will be taken to ascertain the truth in this matter."
The Casa Isla program began in 1991, housing about 100 adolescent teens — ages 14 to 19 — committed to DYS by juvenile courts each year.
With reporting from The Associated Press, WBUR's Zoe Sobel and the WBUR Newsroom
This article was originally published on July 22, 2015.