Probation chief and residents face off over facility, escape 

Residents near a juvenile detention facility say they were misled by county officials and were told that the most dangerous criminals would not receive long-term housing at the Youth Services Center, from which a 17-year-old murder suspect escaped last week.

"It was promised that these types of individuals would not be housed at this facility long term. We were told the average stay of a youth would be 20 days," said Cary Wiest, president of the Highland neighborhood association.

Last Thursday, Josue Raul Orozco, the youngest person ever charged with murder in San Mateo County, scaled a wall at the facility and escaped sometime between 6:15 and 7:15 p.m.

In the days after the escape, residents in the unincorporated area of San Mateo County were shocked when they learned that Orozco, who was 14 when he allegedly shot a man dead, had been housed at the center, built in 2006, as long as it had been open.

Chief Probation Officer Loren Buddress, who’s in charge of the facility and participated in the public meetings about the construction of the facility, admitted that he had told residents that the most dangerous youth would not receive long-term housing.

But the situation has changed since the facility opened in 2006, he said. At the time, the policy was to send juveniles thought to be "beyond our control" to a state facility. Since then, however, state law has changed so that center must house all long-term inmates locally, a key point that Buddress admitted that he did not notify residents about.

"We have not gone out telling people that we are doing things differently each time there is a legislative change," he said. "These changes are frequent, and they tend to be in the newspapers anyway, so we have not."

Further, he said, the change in state law wouldn’t have affected Orozco, who was still awaiting trial and therefore not considered to be a "long-term" occupant — despite his 2½-year occupancy.

Highlands resident Linda Siguenza said that not only should the department have been more upfront about who would be staying at the facility, but also should have let the neighborhood know when the law changed.

"They were very clear with us that this was not going to be a facility for hardened criminals," she said. "The issue now is we felt we were not told the truth. In a case like this, you have to have full disclosure."

Siguenza’s neighbor Lynn Cutts said it "would have been really easy" to let residents know that there had been a change in policy by simply notifying the neighborhood association.

"They were good about letting us know what was going on when they were building the thing, so why not let us know if there’s a major policy change?" she asked. "We really didn’t know there were gonna be murderers in there."

Security and protocol issues have also been called into question as authorities were not alerted until after close to three hours after the escape. It has also been revealed that a design oversight at the facility allowed the fugitive to flee.

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Katie Worth

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