Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center Supervisor Resigns On First Day

Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center
The Cuyahoga County Juvenile Justice Center's new superintendent left just a few hours into his first day on the job, leaving an already embattled facility without a leader again. [Matt Richmond / ideastream]
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Updated 5:12 p.m., July 25, 2019

The first day as superintendent of the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center ended quickly for Donald Shewalter, who resigned Monday after five hours.

Shewalter informed Administrative Judge Kristin Sweeney that he "realized his heart wasn't in it," according to a July 24 memo from Sweeney to staff about the resignation.

"While we were very surprised, we wish him well," Sweeney wrote. "If a job is not a good fit, it is better for all concerned the sooner that knowledge is acknowledged... and acted upon."

The news of Shewalter’s speedy departure surprised observers familiar with the center, including Claire Chevrier, a juvenile justice advocate for the ACLU of Ohio. As part of a group monitoring conditions at the troubled facility, Chevrier was part of a walkthrough earlier this month and monitors were pleased with the improvements there.

“There had been movement with creating a new behavioral management system, and also starting to get full access to education and even getting the youth out of the prison-like jumpsuits,” she says.

Chevrier hopes Shewalter’s resignation doesn’t stop the detention center’s turnaround.

But the abrupt resignation once again leaves a facility embroiled in controversy without a leader.

Shewalter was to replace Delbert Montgomery, who lasted less than a year before being fired. Montgomery was tapped to reform the detention center following a 2018 riot and a report from the D.C.-based Center for Children's Law and Policy that found problems in staffing and treatment of the youth, including discipline and education.

But Montgomery was fired for sexual harassment, divulging confidential information and retaliating against employees who complained about his conduct. 

In the Shewalter memo, Sweeney acknowledged the controversies surrounding the detention center, which is part of the county's juvenile court system. 

"We are in a period of great change both in detention and court," Sweeney wrote. "It has been fascinating to see that even some people both in and out of court clamor for change, others are fearful and skeptical... We are all in this together. Working at a juvenile court/detention center is meaningful, but it is hard and is not for everyone.

"Some people decide working at juvenile court is not for them, and that is okay,” she wrote.

Colin Sikon, field representative for Laborers Union Local 860, which represents 100 of the detention center’s employees, said Shewalter’s resignation is another blow to a staff already battling poor morale.

“Sudden, unexpected change like this is never good for morale. Our members have been dealt quite a few hard knocks. It seems like we just cannot come to agreement with management on a myriad of reasons.”

Judge Sweeney refused ideastream's request for futher comment.


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