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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, April 5, 2007

Painted on Cass rape victim’s house

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — "Slut" was spray-painted in large capital letters on the house of a rape victim Friday night.

"After all I’ve been through, this was too much," she told The Enterprise on Saturday.

She said she had reported the vandalism to the Albany County Sheriff’s Department.

The middle-aged woman was a kitchen worker at the Cass Residential facility, a detention center for youthful offenders. Two years ago, she was raped at knifepoint by one of the residents and kidnapped. She has since become an activist, petitioning to have the facility closed.

The Enterprise withholds the names of sex crime victims.

After the state-run all-male juvenile detention center was changed to a training facility for state employees a month ago, Cass employees spoke out this week, saying they want to return to working with youth. (See related story.)

The rape survivor’s husband said he respects their thoughts and their rights to put up signs and to petition.

When the Office of Children and Family Services, which runs the facility, said it would be a training center, "It was absolutely acceptable," he said. The survivor’s husband said he doesn’t want anyone to lose their jobs. He said he wants the facility to remain open as a training center but doesn’t want inmates to be housed at the facility.

The rape survivor’s husband said someone last week wrote "slut" on a "Keep Camp Cass Closed" sign in his front yard. Two days later, he said, someone wrote "slut" on his house.

He said he didn’t tell his wife about the first incident, because he wanted "to shield her."

"I won’t tolerate anyone victimizing her again," he said. His wife, he said, was raped 15 feet from a guard. After the recent acts of vandalism at their home, "10 feet from where she sleeps," he said, "It’s like it’s happening again to her."

The rape survivor’s husband said he and his wife want accountability for the rape that happened two years ago.

"OCFS made this atmosphere by saying it would be a training facility and then that it wouldn’t," he said.

"I have not, and will not, accuse anyone personally," he said of the vandalism. "I’d like to think that [Cass employees] are the types of human beings that would notify the authorities if they knew who did," he said.

Living in the community since the December, 2004 incident, he said, has been "just horrible" for his family. His wife, he said, is afraid to go anywhere on her own. She doesn’t have a job, insurance, or retirement benefits, he said.

"She’s been sentenced for life," he said. "Where’s she going to go"" he asked.

"There’s just a constant fear that they’re going to escape," he said. A fence, he said, would have only caused more division in the community.

Asked if he and his wife have considered leaving the community, he said they will not leave.

"I’ll make peace, but I’ll never surrender," he said.

No "us and them"

Cass workers who talked to The Enterprise Monday were aware of the acts of vandalism last week at the rape survivor’s home.

"There is no reason in the world anybody at our facility would want to do that because we’re trying to keep the place open," said Ron Pullmain, a child-care worker. "It wouldn’t make any sense"We have no hard feelings," he said.

"She shouldn’t have gone through what she went through, and everybody’s heart goes out to her," said Britta Lovegrove, a nurse.

Lovegrove said she’s talked to many members of the community. "We’ve put it right out there — unacceptable," she said. "This is not what we’re about. This is not what we’re here for.

"This woman needs to be compensated for what she went through"As far as we’re concerned, we would love to be able to have her back, if she would ever come back, or even have a conversation with us, but it’s to the point where she’s just absolved herself from the facility," Lovegrove said.

The rape survivor’s husband responded, saying that the staff at the facility the night she was raped "failed her" and "didn’t do their jobs." His wife, he said, was raped 15 feet from a guard. "It’s absurd to even suggest that," he said of her returning to Cass.

"There are some who are good employees up there, but, the night this happened," he said, "some of them did not do their jobs."

"We need to go on," Lovegrove said. "She needs to go on. We all need to go on. What happened to her is horrible, and what’s continued to happen, with [the vandalism], is just appalling," she said.

"What happened was: We had one victim. All of a sudden, now there’s a lot of victims," Pullmain said. "We’re victims, too. We’re victims of what’s going on, and our families are victims," he said.

"Certainly not to the extent of what she endured, but now our [lives are] in uncertainty," Lovegrove added.

The rape survivor’s husband said Cass employees and their families aren’t victims to the extent he and his family are. His children, grandchildren, and family have to live with what happened forever, he said.

"[The workers]," he said, "can get on with their lives. She can’t. She’ll never be able to get on with her life."

Christine Mickelsen, a teacher, speculated about the collective thought of the community. "I think there’s a reason why the community was quiet for so long, and why the people who wanted to close the place were the only ones that were saying anything," Mickelsen said.

"I think, because they felt that, if they were going to speak out for keeping Cass open, that they would be"insensitive to the experience of this woman. And they didn’t want to be seen that way," she said. Mickelsen said some people are starting to think about the security measures added to the facility and they are thinking the facility should remain open.

"Nobody wants to deny the tragedy, and no one wants to be insensitive, but I think people are saying"maybe there’s another solution. It doesn’t have to be closed outright," she said.

Lovegrove said that, since the rape victim’s home was vandalized last week, "My name has been used in a couple of derogatory manners"even being connected with this word that was put on her house — that I was a part of it.

"No way in my wildest dreams would I even think of doing something as horrific as that," she said.

Lovegrove said she is afraid of speaking out because people might retaliate against her.

"Do I have a fear" Absolutely. Is the mentality up there getting a little bit more vigilante" Absolutely. Does that bother me" Absolutely," she said.

"It’s not what we’re about," Lovegrove said. "We’re a community."

"There isn’t any ‘us and them,’" Mickelsen said. "It’s all a ‘we.’ We are in this community. We’re all together in this," she said. "It’s disturbing to see it splintered off into an ‘us and them.’"

Cass workers speak out about their future

By Tyler Schuling

RENSSELAERVILLE — Cass workers are speaking out this week — in union ads and the media — telling what they call "the rest of the story" on a youth detention center.

After widespread public outcry, Cass Residential’s mission was changed to a training facility for new state employees just over a month ago, and long-time Cass workers don’t like it.

"We’re living with uncertainty every day. We just don’t have a clue," said Britta Lovegrove, a nurse in the facility’s medical unit.

The Cass workers said they are circulating petitions within the facility and in the community for the center to continue to house youths.

"We’re a good place. We’re good people. We’re getting bad publicity," said Ron Pullmain, a child-care worker who "worked directly with the residents."

Lovegrove, Pullmain, John Conklin, and Christine Mickelsen, state employees who have each worked at Cass for more than 20 years, agreed to an interview this week, saying they don’t represent the views of the Office of Children and Family Services, which runs the facility, or of Cass Residential.

Following the recent mission change, the Rensselaerville Town Board voted unanimously last month on a motion calling for the facility to close. A petition calling for the closure was circulated by a kitchen worker who was raped and abducted at knifepoint by a Cass youth. (See related story.) Her petition was presented to the town board in January. Escapes from the camp, the most recent in November, have put local residents on edge.

While the facility has been emptied of youths, workers said they are doing required annual training. They are also painting, and "touching up" at Cass and other facilities, Pullmain said.

Cass, Lovegrove said, is now safer than it has ever been.

"As a woman, I don’t fear for my safety," she said. "Policies have changed that prevent anybody from being alone with any of the kids now."

Lovegrove said she began working at the facility because it was close to her home and her children were young. "It was a 20-hour nursing position, and I’m working with kids. I love kids. My gift is to work with kids and that’s what I like to do," she said.

"There’s only one person that wants to leave," Pullmain said, "and that’s only because he would like to relocate closer to his family." The facility had employed 33 workers.

"Some people may come there because it’s a job, but, after they’ve been there, it’s more than a job," Pullmain said.

"It’s a good source of employment for the community"," said Christine Mickelsen, a teacher. "It would be a shame for the community to lose that employment resource," she said.

"Well over half" of Cass’s employees, Pullmain said, live near the facility.

"There’s a lot of people up there. There’s 32 staff that are impacted by whatever decisions"are being made," Lovegrove said.

"We’re as heartbroken as can be," said Conklin of the kitchen worker was raped at Cass. He added, "It’s a whole lot different since that time."

Conklin, Lovegrove, and Mickelsen are union members, affiliated with the Public Employees Federation. Pullmain is with the Civil Service Employees Association.

PEF placed an advertisement this week in The Greenville Press and The Altamont Enterprise, saying Cass employees "feel safe in their communities, and they want to continue helping at-risk youths in the secure environment of Camp Cass."

Darcy Wells, spokeswoman for PEF, said this week that the union doesn’t have funding set aside for advertising.

"We don’t have a dollar amount," she said. A full-page ad costs $812 in The Enterprise.

Wells said Cass workers felt frustrated. The union then began putting an advertisement together last week. "They felt it was time to get their side of the story out," she said.


In November, a 15-year old youth escaped from Cass and broke into the nearby home of Robert Johnston.

Pullmain said that, the night of the incident, two employees were taking garbage outside with a youth. The 15-year old fled, and the officer who pursued him "fell into a ditch because it was dark out." At recent Rensselaerville Town Board meetings, residents have questioned whether Cass workers were physically fit enough to chase after escaping youth.

"We are not required to do any physical training," Pullmain said.

The staff, Conklin said, is required to have restraint training. Lovegrove said restraining youths has "pretty much diminished."

Pullmain said four youths have escaped the facility in two years — one in December of 2004, another when two residents escaped at the same time, and the most recent escape in November.

"It’s tough to read [the newspapers] and see what’s printed in there, and"knowing some of that stuff isn’t true," Pullmain said. "It really bothers me," he said, "and we haven’t been able to say anything to the contrary."

Asked if they’ve been told not to talk to the press, Pullmain said, "All we’ve been told recently is we have the right, as citizens, to talk to the media if we choose to, just to let them know that we don’t represent the views of OCFS. We’re representing ourselves."

"This is not OCFS talking to you. This is not Camp Cass talking to you. This is four people that work at Camp Cass"We feel we’ve done a good job, and we want to continue doing our job," he said.

Inside Cass

Pullmain said there are 14 child-care positions like his at Cass; workers rotate through three shifts, he said.

"I just wish people could come in there and see, actually, what is done with these kids and how they behave," Pullmain said. "We’ve had a couple of bad apples in our basket, and it’s hurt us."

Pullmain said each staff member carries a radio; if anyone within the facility is in trouble or needs assistance, he said, they push a button on their radio, which sounds an alarm throughout the facility.

"You can’t miss it. That’s how loud it is"It’s like a foghorn," he said. "Once anyone presses the button, we respond immediately to the area"."

Pullmain said many workers who were at the facility the night the kitchen worker was raped are still employed at Cass.

The activities of Cass youths are carefully regulated, said Conklin.

"From the time they get up at seven o’clock in the morning to the time they go to bed at night, every single hour is programmed for them," he said.

"It’s meaningful structure," Mickelsen said.

"You give them other opportunities, and they see other opportunities," Lovegrove said. "Where these kids come from," she said, "you can see why they are the way they are. And we just try to give them the hope that they can move on and get out of it."

"I went to college to become a teacher, and that’s what I’ve done most of my life".," said Conklin.

"There are programs designed for them to work through their issues, their anger," said Mickelsen.

The youths spend time in recreation twice each day — one hour-and-a-half period during the day and another in the evening, said Pullmain. While at the facility, he said, residents show improvement in their hygiene and nutrition.

"They take pride in taking care of themselves," he said. Meals are prepared and scheduled by a dietitian, he said.

The youths, he said, are "not what they’re portrayed to be."

Following an escape from the facility in November, many area residents have recalled that, in the past, the community was in harmony with the facility’s youths.

The decision for not having the youths go out in the community, Pullmain said, was made before the 2004 rape.

When going off-grounds, he said, the staff must have "specific permission." Guidelines and procedures, he said, must be followed.

"Any trip off-grounds," Lovegrove said, "has to go through various levels of permission."

Pullmain said several residents have earned their General Equivalency Diplomas in the last year. The youths, he said, follow the same mandates as students in public schools. Residents, Pullmain said, receive individual counseling.

When residents arrive at the facility, Mickelsen said, the youths have low skill levels and are apathetic about schooling. Mickelsen said she teaches classes with between eight and 13 residents, which she said is "ideal."

"There’s a lot of learning that takes place. There’s significant growth in their levels," she said.

The workers said they have access to a youth’s prior records. But, they said, the crimes are not "something they focus on."

"If there’s a concern about our safety, we’ll know"Some of it’s shared, but it’s not something we focus on," Lovegrove said.

"We are privy to what’s in their files, but it can’t go public," Mickelsen said. "There’s paperwork, paperwork, paperwork, about these kids," she said.

"If a kid is deemed inappropriate," Pullmain said, "he doesn’t come to Cass. He goes to a more appropriate facility. We have different things"We have mental health facilities, secure facilities"There’s facilities set up specifically for all these types of kids," he said.

Cass had been a non-secure facility, intended for non-violent offenders.

"We watch out for them all the time," Conklin said of Cass residents. "At a moment’s notice, any of them could show something that is or isn’t in their records," he said. "They have to have eyeball supervision 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s a little bit different when they’re sleeping, but we’re always watching them," he said.

"If I see anything that’s out of the ordinary, it’s documented and sent to the appropriate administrator, and it’s looked into," Pullmain said. "If I see two kids talking over in the corner that usually don’t talk to one another, I walk over there and find out what’s going on," he said.

Conklin, a gym teacher, said that, when teaching basketball, he instructs residents on "the rules of the game, and the skills of the game." If residents become too physical or violent, he said, they are removed from the activity. If they continue to behave violently after returning to the game, he said, they are removed from the gym.

"We’re trying to teach them to play together," he said. "It’s not just one person and one ball. It’s five people and one ball"."

Conklin said he is "privileged to know" inmates’ prior records. "But most of the time, we treat them as they are. We meet them where they are, and we work with them there," he said.

Town involvement

"Camp Cass" has been on the Rensselaerville Town Board’s agenda for the last three months. Area residents have spoken at length about the facility and speculated about its management, the youth it has held, and the goings-on at Cass. Of the four Cass workers The Enterprise interviewed, only Mickelsen has attended meetings.

Conklin said he has worked the nights of some of the meetings.

"It’s come back from the community that sometimes they’ve been"very vocal, and we’ve all been concerned about that fact," Pullmain said, adding that he is unsure whether he is invited since he doesn’t live in the town.

"I think that’s going to change," Pullmain said. "The next town board meeting — hopefully we’ll have some Cass staff," he said.

The facility, Pullmain said, goes by the American Correction Association guidelines, which he has to oversee. One of the guidelines, he said, is "community suggestions."

"We’d love suggestions from the community. We’d love to have the advisory board sit there and talk to us. We’d love the involvement from the community," he said.

Westerlo appoints five to new planning board

By Tyler Schuling

WESTERLO — After passing a local law Tuesday to create a planning board, the Westerlo Town Board appointed the new board’s members.

Residents Andrew Brick, Jack Milner, Gerald Boone, and Kristin Slaber will serve on the board, and Leonard Laub will act as the board’s chairman.

The town board and new planning board will hold workshop sessions on April 10 and April 18.

The town board disbanded the planning board in 1992 after developers complained about the length of time and requirements to get approval for projects; town board members have since also acted as the planning board.

Weeks prior to appointing the board, Alene Galgay, the town’s attorney, researched past local laws to determine if the town board had the authority to appoint the new board. Two weeks ago, as the town board interviewed candidates, Galgay said she had researched back to 1971 and found no local law to create the board.

A 1992 law, which disbanded the board, she said, terminated any prior local law since it transferred the planning board’s authority to the town board. Galgay had recommended at least one board member represent the agricultural district; Milner and Boone live in the ag district.

"I’m thrilled and honored," Laub told The Enterprise after the meeting. "This is a brand-new phenomenon here," he said.

Laub, who has lived in Westerlo just a year, Councilman R. Gregory Zeh told The Enterprise after the meeting, was appointed chairman of the board because he has shown interest by attending meetings and has looked at the vision of the town.

Laub, Zeh said, also attended meetings last year as the board discussed a comprehensive plan.

Last year, residents Paul Baitsholts and Helene Goldberger sued the town, alleging that the town board also acting as a planning board was illegally constituted, and state law prohibits members of a town board to also serve on a planning board. They are also contesting the planning board’s decision in August to grant approval for a 12-lot residential development adjacent to their properties.

Roland Tozer, who was chairman of the planning board when it was disbanded, told The Enterprise in December, "I’m surprised they haven’t been sued more often."

Zeh told The Enterprise that creating the new planning board was "not at all" in response to the Article 78 petition.

"Over the course of the last year, we’ve had a lot of lengthy, detailed applications that have come before the board," he said.

The applications, he said, "have required a lot of research and a lot of work"."

"I think it’s good that we thought about it, and looked at forming an independent board to start doing that process"," Zeh told The Enterprise after the meeting. Zeh said that an independent board could give the planning process "better due dilligence."

"It’s a lot of work," he said.

Zeh, who made the motion to appoint a planning board at the town board’s March meeting, told The Enterprise after the meeting that he had suggested putting advertisements in newspapers earlier "to solicit for interested residents" for the town’s appointed positions.

"I just think it’s a good idea that the town board take a close look at the people that are interested, and competent, and trained in appointed positions that we have," he said.

The town, he said, hasn’t solicited interested residents prior to the town’s re-organizational meeting in the past. "I think it’s a good thing to do every year," he said.

The town board has a responsibility to look for experienced residents for appointments, and to have "succession planning" for the positions, said Zeh.

Other business
In other business, the town board:

— Voted unanimously to send a letter to Albany County Executive Michael Breslin and Albany County Commissioner of Public Works Michael Franchini detailing employee hours and fuel costs for the most recent snowstorm.

Supervisor Richard Rapp said that, during the storm, the county "went home early" and the town spend "over two hours" plowing the county and state roads. Highway Superintendent John Nevins and Rapp will compile the information, Rapp said; and

— Heard resident Gaye McCafferty’s concerns about the posting of ads in town. McCafferty recommended the board discuss at the next town board meeting regulating the height tobacco advertisements. She said a lot of tobacco signs are below 36 inches. McCafferty, who works as a nurse practitioner, told The Enterprise she recently attended a class that discussed the height of advertisements. McCafferty said she will have more information for the next town meeting.

McCafferty said she doesn’t have small children. "Kids are so important," she said. "It’s time to do the right thing," she said.

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