Charles Loftly, the aide at the state’s Tryon Residential Facility who suffered a stroke last week, a month after police said he was hit in the head with a board by a teenage resident of the institution, has died, and an Oneida County coroner ruled his death was from natural causes not related to the assault.
Meanwhile, the state Office of Child and Family Services, which runs Tryon, announced a plan to temporarily reduce the male resident population at the facility by as much as 43 percent over the next month ahead of a 60-day training program for staff there set to start in October.
The Tryon Residential Facility houses about 150 boys and girls ages 10 to 18 from across the state who have been found guilty of various crimes.
Loftly, 60, of Utica, had been a youth development aide at the facility since 1984. He suffered a stroke late last week and was in a coma in a Utica hospital prior to his death Tuesday night.
“It’s a natural death not related to his attack,” Oneida County Coroner Gregory Mills said Wednesday following an autopsy.
Loftly was attacked on July 16 during an apparent escape attempt by at least three Tryon residents, according to an official who represents Tryon workers. State police charged a 16-year-old Tryon resident, Randall Bell, with second-degree assault in the attack. Police said Bell removed a piece of wood from a desk and struck Loftly on the back of the head with it.
Loftly fought off Bell until help arrived. He did not lose consciousness after the attack but did go to the hospital and was later placed on worker’s compensation leave.
Fulton County District Attorney Louise Sira could not be reached for comment Wednesday following Mills’ verdict, but she said earlier in the day that it is too early to speculate on whether Bell could face any additional charges.
“The community of staff here as a whole is deeply sorrowed by the loss of a brother, of a co-worker and someone who was very important to many of us,” said Michael Geraghty, president of Local 559 of the Civil Service Employees Association at Tryon.
“I’ve worked with Charles since 1984, and it’s a tremendous loss on an individual level and on an agency level of a child care worker who was a master of his trade.”
Tryon aide Courtney Lee had worked with Loftly at the facility since 1990. He said Loftly loved the residents at Tryon and routinely called the male residents there “son.”
“You can put him in the middle of 100 kids and he’ll entertain them for a whole day, and nobody would have to worry about anything,” Lee said. “That’s the type of person he is.”
“He was able to relate to kids on a level that few people are able to relate to the kids on,” Geraghty added. “He not only made a difference in the kid’s life, he made a difference in the lives of the people that worked with him.”
Office of Child and Family Services spokeswoman Susan Steele said that state officials met with union representatives, management, residents and staff at Tryon on Wednesday to show their support and also outline the resident reduction plan.
“I have tremendous respect for the staff. They have a tough job, and incidents like [Loftly’s] make it tougher,” Steele said. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be here and to tell them that in person.”
Loftly was engaged to be married. He has three sisters in the Utica area, according to Sira.
His base annual salary at Tryon was $49,588, according to a Web site that has a database of searchable state payroll figures. That figure does not include overtime or other extra compensation.
Officials plan to temporarily reduce the male population at the Tryon boys’ facility from 87 to about 50 by the end of September.
To do that, they will not bring in new residents when a current resident completes his stay. The reduction will allow workers at the Tryon boys’ facility to focus on their two-month training program, Steele said.
The comprehensive program will include efforts to help staff recognize and respond to residents’ mental health issues, improve crisis management and report-writing skills and teach staff to develop plans to improve resident behavior, Steele said.
The training will start at the Tryon boys’ facility and could be used in the future at other parts of the campus, which also includes facilities for girls.
“It’s difficult to work on a plane when it’s flying, so I think that’s part of the rationale for keeping the numbers down during this training period,” Steele said. “We want to assure staff that they have a safe environment.”
CSEA spokesman Stephen Madarasz said the union is concerned that the resident reductions might end up being permanent.
“With all the concern about state cutbacks, we’re very wary if they’re going to downsize, at this point in time, if they will ever repopulate,” he said. “We’re not dismissing the approach by any means, but we’re just being a little cautious about it because we want to see how it’s going to proceed.”
But Steele said that no jobs or worker hours would be affected by the resident reduction and pledged that the plan is not part of an effort to close Tryon.
“Tryon is not going away. Tryon is going to be better in the future,” she said. “Once the training is done, we’ll be bringing the numbers back up.”
Loftly’s assault was only the latest in a string of troubles at Tryon in recent years.
Darryl Thompson, a 15-year-old Tryon resident, died in 2006 from heart arrhythmia caused by stress after he was restrained by staff members, according to an investigation after his death. No criminal charges were filed in the case.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice said it is investigating alleged civil rights violations by employees against residents at Tryon, but officials would not say what prompted the investigation.
Union officials from both CSEA and the Public Employees Federation have been critical of the state in recent months over what they say is increased violence at Tryon.
“Whether there’s a connection to his death or not, you’re talking about somebody who was brutally beaten on the job and was in a very dangerous circumstance in large measure beyond his control,” CSEA’s Madarasz said. “That sends a very chilling message to other people working in similar environments.”