The 17-year-old was set to be released the next day. One of his counselors was determined that he get a haircut first.
He was so determined, a report said, that the youth worker would be accused of placing the teen in a “choke-hold,” holding him down in a chair, and forcibly trimming his hair — gouging the boy’s scalp and neck in the process. A report to the state alleged that the youth worker later grabbed the youth by the neck, dragged him outside a building and “threw him on the ground” in only his boxer shorts.
Another staffer, Joseph D’Alessandro, later told investigators he “observed the youth with cuts and scratches to his head and back.”
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The Department of Juvenile Justice closed its investigation as a case of excessive force. A Department of Children & Families investigator reported she intended to “verify” an allegation that the teen suffered a physical injury in the incident.
The encounter occurred on Oct. 24, 2010, a report said. The teen was preparing to be released from the Space Coast Marine Institute, a program run by Associated Marine Institutes, or AMIkids, in Melbourne.
One witness to the episode, another detainee, said he overheard the counselor tell the teen to “sit down to get his hair cut, and that, if he didn’t, he would not be able to leave the next day until midnight.” The 17-year-old resisted. He sat down in a chair, but covered his head with his hands. Another detainee reported seeing the staffer hold the youth “in a choke-hold” with one hand while cutting the teen’s hair with the other.
D’Alessandro told a DJJ investigator that he hadn’t seen the confrontation with the clippers, but came upon the two moments later. The boy was lying facedown on the concrete in his underwear, with his hands behind his back, crying.
The worker had been the subject of three prior complaints, two of which were substantiated by juvenile justice administrators. One was for an unspecified violation of rule or policy, which resulted in a reprimand, and the other was for failing to report an incident to the state. He was fired for the compulsory cut.
The program is now called the Melbourne Center for Personal Growth.
This narrative is part of Tales from the Front, a collection of short stories about Florida's juvenile justice system. The Miami Herald investigated the state's youth corrections system following the 2015 beating death of a Miami-Dade detainee. Read the full "Fight Club" investigative series here.