Two face charges of child abuse, neglect at summer youth program

 

For more than two months, police said, Michael Angelo Escalante terrorized students at a state-funded youth program when he was tutoring them in math and English.

Village police said the honorably discharged Marine threw chairs, punched and slapped children for talking or putting their heads on their desks and taped their mouths shut. The students range from middle school to high school.

After a six-month long investigation, Escalante, 22, faces 14 counts of child abuse. He was released from the Palm Beach County Jail late Thursday after posting $64,000 bail.

Escalante was hired as a tutor at Youth Co-Op in June, just as the summer session of the youth-enrichment program began, said Jesus Garcia, the refugee program coordinator for the Palm Beach and Broward Counties for Youth Co-Op.

Also arrested was Ingrid Riechmann, who officers say knew what was happening but failed to protect the students or report Escalante. Riechmann, the youth facilitator for the Palm Beach County Youth Co-Op office on Congress Avenue south of Forest Hill Boulevard, faces 14 charges of child neglect. She bonded out of Palm Beach County Jail on Wednesday.

Garcia said he was so “surprised and upset” by all allegations, and “really disappointed” with Riechmann because she had been with the program since 2011.

“She should have known better,” Garcia said. “I couldn’t sleep for three days after I found out. … They’re supposed to be role models.”

Garcia said he knew few specifics about what happened, but he wasn’t taking any chances when he found out. After he was told of the abuse in August, he interviewed his employees, fired Escalante and Riechmann and contacted the Florida Department of Children in Families as well as police.

Palm Springs Police interviewed more than 30 children as well as parents and coworkers, and all concurred with tales of abuse and neglect. As forms of punishments, they said Escalante threw basketballs and soccer balls at their heads, threw children to the ground and made students perform excessive amounts of exercise as punishment. Co-workers said they went to Riechmann with the accusations, but she did nothing about them.

The state-funded program has helped young newcomers to the United States get settled into their new lives through tutoring and other activities since 1973, according to their website.

Officers noted in the report a possible reason children didn’t come forward about the violence is because most children were not from the United States and do not know the laws that protected them from such abuses.

Garcia said like all employees at Youth Co-Op, Escalante passed a criminal background check and drug test before he was hired. Garcia said his impression of Escalante was a good one — that Escalante was proper and appeared to be a good role model for the young men in the program.

“Everything was, ‘Yes, sir. No, sir,’ ” Garcia said.

The students told officers Escalante would tell stories about his time at war including tales of behind shot, hit by a bomb and how, to this day, he couldn’t sleep at night.

The Post was unable to find out why Escalante was honorably discharged or when or where he served.

The Palm Springs Police say they do not believe they will be looking any further into Youth Co-Op.

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