Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct an error that appeared in the print edition. Richard Glassman, a Seal Beach native, Glassman never let go of the key during the incident described below. Another California youth corrections counslor lost his key while rescuing Glassman from his attackers.
As they beat him, the eight “wards” told Seal Beach native Richard Glassman that it was nothing personal—they liked him. They were just taking care of business. They were after a key in his possession. The youth corrections counselor (he’s called that because there are neither guards nor inmates in youth corrections) knew they intended to do something bad to someone—another “ward” or a member of the staff. They ultimately admitted they intended to kill a ward. It was their last chance before the ward was transferred.
But Glassman wouldn’t let go of the key. “Under no circumstances do you give up your keys,” Glassman said.
More than a year later, he’s not letting go of his dream to hunt fugitive parolees.
On Sept. 17, 2015, Glassman will travel to Sacramento and be one of three members of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to receive the Medal of Valor. “The Medal of Valor is earned by employees who distinguish themselves—whether on-duty or off — through bravery or heroism above and beyond the normal demands of correctional service,” according to the Corrections Department website.
Glassman was attacked on March 10, 2014. He still hasn’t returned to duty—though he’s looking forward to it.
Glassman got his college degree in criminal justice, but instead of pursuing his dream of becoming a police officer, he sold cars. For many years he managed a BMW lot and made good money doing it.
But he reached the point where he decided he no longer wanted to make money for the sake of making money. He decided to pursue the dream of becoming a police officer. There was a brief detour along the way—he bought a horse in a claiming race and in 2005, Musique Toujors won the $1 Million California Breeders Sales Classic at Florida’s Gulfstream Park.
Musique came in first place at 70-1 odds. In February of 2005, Glassman told the Sun that “if I have an obstacle, if anyone says it can’t be done, I’ll see Musique in my head.”
In 2007, Glassman became a sworn officer in the Corrections Department. He was 47. When he took the job, he signed a statement acknowledging that in the event he was taken hostage, the state would not negotiate for his release.
Glassman said he never loved a job until this one. “But now I’m proud of what I’m doing for a living,” he said.
He worked with young offenders, where the emphasis is on rehabilitation. He had prior experience working with people with what he called bad backgrounds while at the BMW lot. The policy was to hire people from the local community. So Glassman hired people with gang backgrounds. It paid off: during the riots in the 1990s, his lot was left untouched.
Glassman’s law enforcement career took him to the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility. It is the only facility of its kind in Southern California.
There used to be three. Some of the wards in the Ventura facility were tried as juveniles, meaning they would stay at the facility until they were 25. The ones tried as adults would be transferred to adult prison as soon as they turned 18.
Glassman said about 90 percent of the wards were there for gang related murders or attempted murders. (He said three or four of his attackers were murderers.) The 15 female wards who were there at the time were convicted of murder—in most cases for murdering their own mothers.
Glassman worked in a unit with wards who refused to integrate with other inmates—the worst of 10 units. The teachers came to the ward, rather than the wards leaving the unit to attend school. Glassman’s shift began at 2 p.m. The wards finished school at 3:30 p.m.
He wears three hats on the job: custody, supervision and rehabilitation. The work day was spent shifting hats.
Glassman said it is hard to rehabilitate kids who were never “habilitated” in the first place. For most of them, the gangs were their families.
Part of his time was spent breaking up fights before they escalated—protecting the wards from each other.
After school, he would do group counseling with them—teaching them anger management, or victim awareness or social skills.
“The whole focus is to try to change these guys,” he said.
According to Glassman, a lot of the wards do in fact change.
“A lot of times, your rapport with the wards keeps you alive,” he said.
When the wards are well behaved, staff in juvenile corrections will give them positive reinforcement such as snacks in the evening.
The night of the beating, one of them asked to use the phone to call his mom.
Glassman was setting up the phone in the day room when he was attacked.
As a result, he received a concussion, a fractured nose, three fractured ribs, four broken teeth and his right knee and right hip were both damaged.
Fortunately for Glassman, colleague Sean Copeland chose to come to Glassman’s rescue, knowing he would also be attacked. “But he did it anyway,” Glassman said. Glassman called Copeland his hero. Copeland is one of the other corrections officers to receive the Medal of Valor this year.
Shortly after Copeland came to Glassman’s rescue, the key popped out of Copeland’s hands. Security arrived immediately after that—before the eight wards could reach their intended victim.
Glassman still has two surgeries and physical rehabilitation to go through before he returns to active duty.
Just last week he returned to Ventura for the first time since the attack for a celebration with his co-workers, who gave him a plaque.
Glassman hopes that getting the Medal of Valor will help him get a position on the Fugitive Apprehension Team—which goes after parolees who are wanted for serious crimes such as murder.
As for his attackers, Glassman said four have been convicted and four others are attempting plea bargains.