Bronx Justice News Investigates: State Probe Uncovers Abuse, Neglect at Horizon Juvenile Center

Pictured: Horizon Juvenile Center.

By Kevin Deutsch
kdeutsch@bronxjusticenews.com

A 17-year-old prisoner at Horizon Juvenile Center in the Bronx was the victim of “serious” abuse and neglect at the hands of facility staff—mistreatment that city and state officials are keeping hidden from public scrutiny, a Bronx Justice News investigation found.

Anijah Dicks, who is being held at Horizon on charges stemming from a Jan. 4, 2019 shooting of a male victim in Brooklyn, has been unable to pay the $20,000 bond or $8,000 cash bail that would secure his release.

Last year, he was subjected to “serious physical abuse, sexual abuse or other severe conduct by a subject” at Horizon, records show.

The documents, provided by the state to Anijah’s mother, said he was improperly given illegal, Schedule 1 drugs by a Horizon staffer—a public employee whose identity is being withheld by both New York City and State.

Anijah’s mother reached out to Bronx Justice News for help after the government failed to provide her with additional details about what happened to her son.

“It was alleged that on or about or between August 12, 2019 and September 6, 2019 while at Horizon Juvenile Center…a Custodian, committed Unlawful use or admin. of a controlled substance pursuant to Social Services Law S493(4)(a),” reads the letter sent to Anijah’s mom by the New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, which investigates incidents of abuse in youth jails. “This allegation has been SUBSTANTIATED.”

“The investigation revealed the subject unlawfully used or distributed a schedule 1 controlled substance as defined in  Article 33 of the New York Public Health Law while at the workplace…while on duty,” the letter states.

Investigators deemed the incident a “Category 1” offense, which the Justice Center defines as “serious physical abuse, sexual abuse or other severe conduct by a subject.”

A second allegation, described as “Category 2 Neglect pursuant to Social Services Law S493(4)(b),” was also substantiated against the Horizon staffer, the letter to Anijah’s mother states.

“The investigation revealed the subject failed to maintain professional boundaries,” according to the letter from the Justice Center.

The substantiated category 1 claim means the Horizon staffer who gave Anijah drugs will be placed on the state’s “Staff Exclusion List,” a database containing names of people “who have committed serious or repeated acts of abuse or neglect against people with special needs in programs under the Justice Center’s jurisdiction,” records show.

Individuals on the list are barred from working in positions requiring “regular and substantial” contact with people receiving special needs services, and remain on the list forever, state officials said.

Horizon is considered a “residential care facility” under state law, which affords certain legal protections to vulnerable and special needs citizens. Violations of their rights are, in many cases, probed by the Justice Center.

Despite the substantiated allegations of abuse and neglect perpetrated against her son, Anijah’s mother, Melody Sanchez, said she has been unable to obtain details of what happened to her child.

She said she has also had difficulty visiting him because of limited public access to prisoners at the facility.

“They make it very hard to see him,” Sanchez, of Brooklyn, told Bronx Justice News. “I want to know what’s happening to my son.”

Of the staffer who abused him, she said: “That person should be fired.”

Sanchez said she was first notified of the abuse investigation in a Dec. 30 letter from Kaye Callender, deputy director of the Institutional Abuse Unit at the state Office of Children and Family Services, which alerts inmates’ parents to abuse allegations.

“We have contacted the facility and an appropriate safety plan was put in place to provide for protections for your child and any other children in the program,” wrote Callender. “The facility is available to discuss the incident with you if you wish additional information.”

Sanchez said she has requested more information from the facility, but received none.

She also said her son requires prescription medication, which facility staffers have failed to provide him.

Anijah, who is charged with attempted murder and use of a firearm, is next due in court March 31 in Brooklyn. He has pleaded not guilty.

His attorney, Matthew Caldwell of the Legal Aid Society, said he was pleased with the results of the investigation.

“I am really happy to hear that the claim was substantiated,” Caldwell told Bronx Justice News. “I’m also grateful that you’re following up on it, and shedding more light on some of the inhumane conditions that some of my clients are caught up in.”

Horizon has a checkered history involving repeated instances of inmate abuse and violence.

Nearly 100 teens were moved from Rikers to Horizon on Oct. 1, 2018, setting off weeks of violence involving inmates and staffers. A video of teens and correction officers brawling went viral shortly after the transfer, triggering widespread criticism of the facility and calls from the correction officers’ union to close Horizon.

Reported incidents of violence at Horizon later fell sharply, according to city data, but problems remain.

A court-appointed federal monitor, tasked with examining the city’s treatment of inmates, has issued regular reports highlighting violence at city jails, including Horizon.

His most recent findings show Horizon inmates are subjected to use of force at rates higher than adult prisoners on Rikers Island.

“The Facility’s high rates of violence and [use of force] are of great concern to the Monitoring Team,” the federal monitor, Steve Martin, wrote in his October report.

Horizon is overseen by staffers from the city’s Administration of Children’s Services, as well as the Department of Correction.

ACS is slated to take full control of the facility this year, but about 20 DOC staffers still remain on site, officials said.

Neither ACS, DOC, nor the Office of Children and Family Services would comment on Anijah’s case.

No government spokespersons contacted for this story would say which agency the staffer that abused Anijah worked for, what type of drugs they gave him, whether they had been suspended or fired as a result of the investigation, or what type of “safety plan” was put in place to protect inmates.

They cited statutory laws they say bar the release of the abuser’s personnel information.

Sasha Gonzales and Eric Klein contributed reporting. 

About Kevin Deutsch 213 Articles
Kevin Deutsch is a Staff Writer for Bronx Justice News covering the criminal justice system, drugs, and DNA use by law enforcement. An award-winning journalist, Deutsch is the author of the true crime books "Pill City" and "The Triangle." He has worked on staff at the Daily News, Miami Herald, Newsday, The Palm Beach Post, and The Riverdale Press. His work has also appeared in Newsweek, Columbia Journalism Review, The New York Times, The Village Voice, The Forward, The Independent, Huffington Post, Orlando Sentinel, and the New York Post, among other publications. His numerous television appearances include spots on CNN, MSNBC, and C-SPAN's BookTV. He has also been featured in The New Yorker. A Bronx resident, Deutsch hosts the true crime podcast "A Dark Turn" on the Authors on the Air Global Radio Network.