Authorities called it ritualized abuse, meant to punish and warn the teenagers in a state facility on Long Island.
In assaults that staff members dubbed “orange chicken,” teenagers confined to the Department of Youth Services residential site were stripped from the waist down and hit on the bare buttocks with an orange sandal, according to prosecutors.
On Wednesday, seven staffers at the Casa Isla Short-Term Treatment and Revocation Center were arraigned in Suffolk Superior Court on a variety of charges, including assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in connection with the “orange chicken” abuse and other incidents.
All seven pleaded not guilty and were released on personal recognizance. An eighth person is expected to be arraigned Thursday in connection with the case.
Casa Isla was closed last August after allegations of the physical abuse surfaced. It had been run by the nonprofit Volunteers of America Massachusetts Inc. since 1991, according to state officials. The defendants were paid staffers.
“We just want justice,” said the mother of one of the victims. She and the boy’s father, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their child’s identity, hoped the program would help him refocus his life after his arrest for a nonviolent offense.
Instead, the father said, the program left their son traumatized.
“He thought he was going to be raped,” the father said, referring to the times the boys were allegedly ordered to take down their pants. “He was dealt with such force and intimidated in such a way he thought he was going to die.”
The staff were “slamming them, restraining them, and torturing these kids,” the father said. Staff members conducted the alleged abuse out of sight of the cameras that monitored the facility, he said.
In court, Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Gloriann Moroney alleged that the staffers dealt out “orange chicken” assaults for misbehavior, for returning to the program after being discharged, and on the night before a discharge as “a reminder not to return.”
Staffers also allegedly ordered some residents to participate in the assaults, prosecutors said. Those who assaulted fellow residents “did so because they believed they would be the recipient of an ‘orange chicken’ assault if they refused,’’ prosecutors said in court records. The teens, who had been committed to the facility by juvenile court judges, were threatened with physical harm if they told anyone, Moroney said.
Prosecutors did not say when the abuse occurred or how many teens were victims.
Michael Doolin, the defense attorney for defendant Ainsley Laroche, 40, of Roxbury, said his client did not participate in any of the incidents.
He said he was confident that Laroche, who is facing three charges each of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, intimidation of a witness, and threats to commit a crime, will be exonerated.
The six other defendants arraigned Wednesday were identified by Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office as Jalise Andrade, 34, of Brockton; Joseph Cintolo, 26, of Quincy; Silvio DePina, 37, of Brockton; Wilkens Jeanty, 40, of Quincy; Hermano Joseph, 24, of Taunton; and Raymond Pizarro, 24, of Hyde Park.
Pizarro’s attorney said his client was hospitalized at the time of the allegations and was not involved. Lawyers for the other defendants did not comment in court beyond entering not guilty pleas.
An eighth defendant, Emmanuel Fedna, 30, of Everett, is charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and will be arraigned Thursday.
Prosecutors said the investigation into Casa Isla, which had 15 beds and saw about 100 boys come through its doors each year, began in August 2014 and involved State Police, Conley’s office, and the DYS.
“DYS is committed to ensuring a safe, respectful environment for youth in its custody,’’ Rhonda Mann, director of communication for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, which oversees DYS, said in a statement. “DYS has increased its monitoring visits and program reviews to ensure that we are providing quality services and that youth are being treated in a safe and respectful manner.’’
In a statement, the Volunteers of America Massachusetts said the DYS conducted a review of its operations before the allegations were made, “including the oversight of residents, safety protocols, monitoring, security cameras, and reporting systems,” and gave the Casa Isla facility a passing grade.
“It is hard for us to imagine that this could have been occurring given the rigorous oversight by experienced and dedicated caregivers at Casa Isla,’’ the statement from the organization said. “But it is our collective duty to find out what happened and we hope that every step will be taken to ascertain the truth in this matter. ‘’
According to the group, prosecutors have 2,300 hours of videotapes, covering several months, as part of the investigation by Conley’s office that led to the criminal charges.
The group said those charged in the case no longer work for the nonprofit. The DYS terminated its contract with the organization in September, a month after the abuse allegations were made. The nonprofit was paid $9.47 million by the state from fiscal 2010 to fiscal 2015 to run Casa Isla and other programs. Two DYS workers assigned to Casa Isla were fired.
Naoka Carey, executive director of the nonprofit Citizens for Juvenile Justice, said the DYS is generally considered to be very good.
Nationally, nearly 1 in 4 youths in detention facilities report fear of staff members, said Carey; about 1 in 10 report being victims of sexual abuse. One solution, she said, is to ensure that young people have access to outside adults — such as lawyers or family members — in whom they can confide.
“It’s really upsetting when any kid is abused,” she said. “But when a kid we put into the custody of adults who are paid by the state to take care of them [is abused], that’s really upsetting.”
Robert Fleischner, an attorney at the Center for Public Representation who has worked with juveniles in facilities around the country, including Massachusetts, said that many factors could lead to staffers abusing people in their care.
In some cases, he said, factors included staffers feeling like their actions were harmless or fun. Sometimes, he said, staffers view their charges as “less than human.” And sometimes, they see their abuse as part of the mission of the facility: to punish and teach a lesson.