Iowa center called police nearly 1,000 times in 3 years before teen killed staffer, records show

The Ellipsis Iowa treatment center is seen, Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Johnston, Iowa. Police officers have responded nearly 1,000 times in the past three years to the juvenile treatment center where a woman was killed, according to police records. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

By JIM SALTER Associated Press

Officers responded nearly 1,000 times in the past three years to an Iowa juvenile treatment center where a staff member was killed by a 15-year-old resident, according to police records.

Kathleen Galloway-Menke was assaulted May 8 at the center, Ellipsis Iowa. Her family’s attorney, Trever Hook, said the 50-year-old mother of two daughters suffered brain damage and died Tuesday after life support was removed.

Galloway-Menke had worked at Ellipsis for a year. Hook questioned whether the facility provides adequate training for staff dealing with sometimes dangerous clients.

The 15-year-old had a violent history and had made previous threats against Galloway-Menke, Hook said. He wasn’t sure what prompted those threats.

The Polk County Attorney’s Office on Thursday announced that the 15-year-old has been charged with second-degree murder. He is being housed in a juvenile detention center. A news release did not say if the teenager would be tried as an adult. It wasn’t immediately clear if he had an attorney.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Ellipsis said employees “are thoroughly trained on de-escalation techniques and ways to handle a variety of situations safely.”

Ellipsis formed in August 2021 when two nonprofit organizations merged. It serves more than 750 youths and their families each day with residential care and treatment, counseling and other services, according to its website. Young people housed at the facility in the Des Moines suburb of Johnston are there on court orders, the organization said in a statement to the AP.

The nearly 1,000 police calls to the center include 676 for runaways and 72 reported assaults, according to records released by the Johnston Police Department. Last year alone, 251 runaways were reported, and 31 assaults, among 382 total police calls to the center.

In a statement to AP, Police Chief Dennis McDaniel did not criticize Ellipsis.

Police and Ellipsis officials have frequently met “regarding issues, challenges, and community concerns stemming from the increasing service needs of juveniles placed at the Johnston campus,” he said. “Ellipsis leadership has been receptive to feedback and remains actively engaged.”

Ellipsis officials declined interview requests but said in the statement that the May 8 attack was “an isolated and tragic outcome.” The organization said it is working with the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services “to add additional safety and security measures to our facilities to protect both youth and staff in addition to our community.”

The evening Galloway-Menke was injured, the teenager had left the center without permission. Galloway-Menke and another staffer followed him but kept at a distance — protocol established by Ellipsis, Hook said. A supervisor and other workers also went outside but stayed farther back, he said.

Suddenly, Hook said, the teen turned and sprinted across a street, past the other staffer, and directly at Galloway-Menke. He shoved her and her head hit the concrete, Hook said.

“She went flying backwards and landed on her head,” Hook said. Galloway-Menke underwent emergency brain surgery but doctors determined she would not recover, he said.

Ellipsis said its policy calls for staff to keep runaways “in sight, as best we can, until local law enforcement arrives so we can keep police informed and to minimize potential harm to the youth or anyone else in the community.” The organization said it believes staff acted as safely as possible after the 15-year-old left the center.

Though staff at juvenile centers typically work with young people who can be dangerous, deaths are rare. In 2016, 60-year-old staff member Jimmy Woolsey was attacked from behind by a 17-year-old at a ranch serving as a youth center in southern Utah. Woolsey died from blunt force injuries to the head.

Galloway-Menke worked for 25 years as a special education aide in the Johnston School District before taking the job with Ellipsis, Hook said. Her death was devastating to her daughters, ages 20 and 25.

“They’re very close to their mother,” Hook said.