A former staffer at a now-shuttered Department of Youth Services residential program pleaded not guilty Thursday in Suffolk Superior Court to charges that he and seven other employees ritualistically abused teenagers in their care.
Emmanuel Fedna, 30, was released on his own recognizance after being arraigned on a charge of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, prosecutors said. Seven other former workers at the Casa Isla Short-Term Treatment and Revocation Center, where the abuse allegedly occurred, were arraigned Wednesday.
Requests on Wednesday and Thursday to speak with Department of Youth Services Commissioner Peter Forbes were declined.
The staffers are accused of forcing teenagers committed to the facility to strip below the waist, and then spanking them on the buttocks with an orange DYS-issued sandal, in a type of assault the staffers allegedly dubbed “orange chicken.”
The orange chicken assaults were allegedly meted out when the teenagers misbehaved or were returned to the facility after release, or as a reminder not to return on their last night, prosecutors said.
Fedna’s attorney, Dan Gelb, said his client denied the charges, and declined to comment.
Casa Isla had been run by the nonprofit Volunteers of America Massachusetts Inc. since 1991, on a contract from the state. It was closed last August after the allegations of abuse surfaced.
A spokeswoman for Volunteers of America Massachusetts declined to be interviewed on the phone Thursday. She did not answer e-mailed questions about the organization’s other programs, or the allegation that staffers at Casa Isla threatened teens with violence at other residential facilities.
On Wednesday, DYS spokeswoman Rhonda Mann said that as a result of the allegations, DYS put together “teams of high-level staff to go in and do a full review of each program in the Boston area.”
The department operates 58 secure and residential programs for detained and committed youths across the state, she said; 19 of those are operated by the agency and 39 are operated by nonprofits.
Mann said the victims were not hospitalized, and said they “are OK.”
On Thursday, another spokeswoman declined to provide additional information about the review of Boston-area programs.
Globe Correspondent Astead W. Herndon contributed to this report. Evan Allen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen. Rosa Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.