Cumberland Times-News

Local News

January 25, 2014

Crimes Against Children assisting with Potomac Center abuse case

W.Va. troopers from program aiding in investigation

ROMNEY, W.Va. — Three West Virginia State Police officers who work within the Crimes Against Children program are in Romney to assist with the investigation into alleged abuse at the Potomac Center.

“One trooper is from Martinsburg and the other two are from Jefferson County,” Sgt. R.W. Mason, commander of the Romney detachment, said Friday.

“There are probably going to be more (troopers) at some point to help process what, if any, evidence we may have.”

The state police and West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources began investigating when upper management at the center last week reported possible abuse to 24 children housed in three different buildings on the Potomac Center campus.

The children were removed  Jan. 16 and 17.

The staff of the DHHR assigned to monitor the children left after the last of the 24 kids were removed from the center.

“Our investigators continue to interview staff at the facility,” Allison Adler, director of communications at DHHR, said Friday.

Adler said the state police investigation continues and DHHR is cooperating.

Once the investigation began, an alleged perpetrator reported on another revealing that four to six incidents that should have been reported to management weren’t.

It was then that officials decided that until all staff is investigated in depth, the children in three of the houses would be removed.

Hampshire County Prosecuting Attorney Dan James said, “Investigators have to look at all the information very carefully. They have to look at everything and that is what they are doing now.

“No one is rushing to have the center reopen. The children are our No. 1 priority.”

In the meantime, center CEO Rick Harshbarger and COO Kim Helmstetter traveled to Charleston on Friday to meet with state officials.

From Charleston, Harshbarger said, “The investigation is ongoing. No time has been given for the exact completion of their work. Things are moving along, however. Potomac Center staff is assisting the reviewers in every way possible.

“I am fully cooperating with both the DHHR investigators, the prosecuting attorney Dan James and the West Virginia State Police, and we support and approve of their efforts.”

Harshbarger said he wants to see any staff who mistreated any child at the Potomac Center identified, charged and convicted.

“The Potomac Center is my life’s work and my passion and there is no stronger advocate for children with disabilities than me,” Harshbarger said.

DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling said in a statement, “I am outraged and deeply saddened by the exploitation of children and lack of compassion by some employees at this facility. Let me reiterate, in the strongest terms, my condemnation of this behavior. These acts — by whoever committed — are criminal and unjustifiable, especially when they target such vulnerable individuals. DHHR is committed to the well-being and protection of children. It’s a priority.”

When Harshberger learned of the alleged abuse he described it as demeaning, disrespectful, degrading and intolerable but said that the children were not physically injured.

The Potomac Center is an independent not-for-profit, private organization governed by a volunteer board of directors, providing residential assistance and support to both children and adults with developmental disabilities as they learn the skills needed to live successful lives.

Contact Marla Pisciotta at marlapisciotta@frontier.com.

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