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Counselor involved in boy's death resigns

Another man, accused of giving a false account in a boy's death, also quits.

By CURTIS KRUEGER

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 30, 2000


The 300-pound wilderness camp counselor criticized for restraining a 12-year-old boy who later died has resigned from Clearwater-based Eckerd Youth Alternatives, which operates the camp.

So did another employee who was accused of providing false information to state officials looking into that incident, Eckerd said in documents provided to the Department of Juvenile Justice this week.

Eckerd also says it has changed its policies to train employees more frequently in the use of physical restraints and to reduce the number of cases in which a single employee restrains one of the youthful campers.

Whether Eckerd will face any sanctions over the February death of Michael Wiltsie is not clear. Florida Juvenile Justice Secretary Bill Bankhead said in a statement he still is reviewing the documents.

The Juvenile Justice department's inspector general last month said counselor Joseph Cooley had used an "improper, unauthorized and inappropriate" restraint against Wiltsie, who weighed 65 pounds, at the wilderness camp.

The report also said Joseph Acton, a resource teacher at the camp, had provided false information to investigators looking into the death. Acton had said he could not provide specific information about the restraint Cooley used on Wiltsie because he didn't see it. But witnesses said it was in plain view, according to the report.

In its response to that report, Eckerd calls Cooley "a fine employee who helped many young people overcome their problems." Eckerd kept Cooley on paid leave until his Sept. 18 resignation. As for Acton, Eckerd said "we believe that Mr. Acton did not intentionally impede the investigation."

Eckerd said in the documents that it will provide restraint training to staff who had not previously received it, including managerial, clinical, educational and social service workers. "This change will increase the number of staff available to assist in de-escalating and/or restraining youth, while concurrently decreasing the number of occurrences involving one-person restraints."

A Marion County grand jury had previously decided not to indict Cooley. Although jurors said Cooley's restraint of Wiltsie "led to his death," they said his actions did not amount to culpable negligence, an element needed to prove manslaughter.

The camp near Silver Springs in Central Florida seeks to teach troubled boys personal responsibility and life skills.

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