Neither a State Police investigation nor an autopsy by the state Medical Examiner's Office could find a cause for Hill's death.
A copy of the official investigation by the Division of Juvenile Services obtained by the Gazette-Mail states that Sgt. Brian Timmons, who was working at the Industrial Home for Youth as a shift commander when Hill died, said the 19-year-old "had a discoloration to him, like he was oxygen deprived."
The report's conclusion doesn't list a cause for Hill's death but states that the home's staff acted appropriately and in a professional manner.
'We're always evolving,
always trying to get better'
The Industrial Home for Youth has had several incidents other than Hill's death that have attracted attention in recent years.
In 2004, one correctional officer was fired and four other employees were suspended after a stun gun was brought into the Industrial Home and used to shock several 17-year-old residents. A veteran officer reportedly used the stun gun to shock at least one inmate, then allowed that juvenile to shock at least two others.
In another incident from 2004, a guard allowed two juveniles into the room of another, where a fight occurred.
The guard didn't let the two in the room to beat up the other inmate, according to Cindy Largent, deputy director of Juvenile Services at the time. She said it was "mainly an issue of horseplay."
Four officers were charged after an October 2008 incident where a youth was shackled and beaten. One guard, Robert Reed, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery and was sentenced to house arrest and some weekends in jail. Another officer was later acquitted.
In 2009, a 20-year-old inmate was charged with sexually assaulting another, although the contact might have been consensual, according to reports at the time.
For a time in 2009, inmates older than 18 and younger inmates intermingled in the facility, but that was changed after a series of assaults, said then-Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety spokesman Joe Thornton, now the department's leader.
In March 2009, Thornton cited ongoing investigations into three physical attacks and a sexual assault that occurred that month as the reason for separating inmates again.
Dodson, the Juvenile Services deputy director, said the department stringently tests applicants who want to work at the Industrial Home for Youth. The positions don't pay well, and guards or other workers can often leave for a higher-paying job in the state or federal corrections systems once they're trained, he said.
"It makes it difficult to keep good people," he said, "and it's hard to get good people in the first place."
In 2010, the division hired 74 people to fill jobs in its 230-position staff. Dodson estimates that for each person hired, there are 10 applicants rejected.
"That means there are probably 700 people that didn't meet our standards," he said.
In the past year, 20 staff members quit, nine retired, 10 were transferred to other state agencies and five were terminated, he said.
"We're always evolving, always trying to get better," Dodson said. "I think we need to look at the system as a whole, to look at how we can make it work better."
He said housing 18- to 21-year-olds in a facility that also houses kids as young as 10 creates problems.
"If I had my way," he said, "we'd have a whole separate facility all together, so all those 18-year-olds are separated."
Dodson said the Industrial Home for Youth and its staff are monitored closely, and that any planned restraint is videotaped.
"I have cameras on every unit," he said. "I can watch randomly from my desk."
'There's video of a memorial service;
I haven't been able to watch it'Shortly after Hill died, Szilvasi got a call from Joseph Merendino, superintendent of the Industrial Home.
"He said, 'I'm so sorry this happened, and I need to let you know this is not a homicide or a suicide,'" Szilvasi said, "'and you can no longer speak to any employees unless I am on the phone with you.'"
Merendino did not return phone calls seeking comment for this report. In 2009, he told the Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram that the corrections workers were having a hard time with Hill's death.
"This was a shocking thing to everybody," he told the newspaper.
Benjamin Hill likely would have ended his incarceration last September, and Szilvasi said she and other family members commemorated the event by releasing balloons and smoking a cigarette.
"Ben said he wanted a pack of Marlboros ready when he got out," she said.
Hill's shoes, signed by many of the kids incarcerated with him, are one of the few mementoes Szilvasi has of her son.
"There's a video of a memorial service they had [at the Industrial Home] for Ben. I haven't been able to watch it," she said. "It was traumatic for those kids."
Reach Gary Harki at gha...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.