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Criminal investigation of Glen Mills Schools is ‘a top priority,’ new Delaware County DA says

Jack Stollsteimer had called for a rigorous probe into abuses at the reform school during his campaign.

Incoming Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said he ran for office "so that we can have a district attorney who is willing to be independent."
Incoming Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said he ran for office "so that we can have a district attorney who is willing to be independent."Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

Earlier this year, when reports of violence at the Glen Mills Schools surfaced, lawyer Jack Stollsteimer called for the Delaware County district attorney to launch an investigation. “The allegations,” he said, “sicken me as a parent.”

When local leaders called for District Attorney Katayoun Copeland to refer the investigation to the state Attorney General, Stollsteimer joined the chorus, saying it was the only way to determine “what the DA’s office knew about the systemic abuse alleged to have gone on at Glen Mills for decades and why they didn’t act to protect children.”

Now, Stollsteimer has been elected the district attorney of Delaware County — the first Democrat to hold the office in county history — and is promising a “fair and independent” criminal investigation into abuse at the Glen Mills Schools.

“That’s literally part of why I ran for office,” Stollsteimer said in an interview Thursday.

The former federal prosecutor and longtime Havertown resident ousted Copeland, a Republican, in last week’s election. His win was part of a blue wave that swept the historically Republican county west of Philadelphia; when the offices change over in January, the Delaware County Council will be controlled by Democrats for the first time since the Civil War.

Stollsteimer, 56, grew up in Delaware County, graduating from Ridley Senior High School in Folsom. He said he first became familiar with Glen Mills, the nation’s oldest existing school for court-ordered youth, working as a prosecutor in the juvenile unit of the DA’s office in 2000. When he became an assistant U.S. Attorney, Stollsteimer said, he saw defendants who had come through Glen Mills.

“At the time, it was the flagship model,” he said, “the gold standard of juvenile justice.” In 2006, when the governor appointed Stollsteimer as the state’s safe schools advocate for Philadelphia, he saw that the school district had modeled campuses for students with behavior problems after Glen Mills.

In February, The Inquirer published an investigation detailing decades of violence by Glen Mills Schools counselors against students, as well as school leaders’ efforts to cover up the abuse.

Copeland, the Delaware County DA, demurred when local leaders called on her to refer the case to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. A local district attorney can make such a referral when she believes there is an ethical conflict, or that the county’s resources are too limited. Copeland has said neither situation existed — a claim that Stollsteimer and other Democrats disputed.

“It’s clearly a conflict for the DA’s office to investigate itself and we can’t understand if District Attorney Copeland can’t see the obvious conflict or if she’s trying to sweep her office’s inaction under the rug,” Delaware County Councilman Brian Zidek said in March.

Chelsey Price, a spokesperson for Copeland, responded, “The professional, dedicated prosecutors and investigators in the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office and the Pennsylvania State Police are conducting an independent investigation of the allegations.”

At the time, she categorized the statements of Stollsteimer and council members as “attention seeking.”

Reached by phone on Friday, Copeland told The Inquirer, “My response is the same as the last time you inquired about the case: The absolute secrecy aspects of a grand jury are in effect, and we can make no comment on any inquiries.”

Copeland declined to comment further.

» READ MORE: How Pennsylvania failed to protect boys from abuse at Glen Mills and other state-licensed juvenile programs

Last year, after The Inquirer reported that a Philadelphia teen had been assaulted by Glen Mills staff, Copeland announced the arrests of two former counselors in connection with the attack.

Charges of simple assault and harassment were dismissed against one of these staffers in April. The other counselor, Christopher Medina, is still facing charges of aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment, and endangering the welfare of a child.

State officials ordered the emergency removal of Glen Mills’ students in March, then yanked the school’s 14 licenses. School leaders are appealing the state’s decision, although the hearing has not been scheduled.

Stollsteimer said the Glen Mills case will be a “top priority" when he takes office Jan. 6. He said he plans to assess the status of the investigation before deciding whether to keep it in-house or refer the probe to the attorney general.

“Honestly, I just need to see what has been done, if anything,” he said. “I believe I can appropriately do an independent investigation. But I’ll look at the resources, and whether a conflict still exists.”

A spokesperson for Shapiro said, “We would take the case," should Stollsteimer refer it.

Christopher Spriggs, acting executive director of Glen Mills, said the program “remains committed to cooperating with any investigation made by local and state officials or other public entities.”

Pennsylvania Auditor Eugene DePasquale and the state Office of the Inspector General have both been investigating the Glen Mills Schools since March. Stollsteimer said he wants to discuss these probes with Gov. Tom Wolf.

“We need to know the truth of what’s going on," Stollsteimer said. "There needs to be these investigations, but they shouldn’t linger forever.

"We need answers, and soon.”