Crime

No evidence found that Palmetto Youth Academy worker kissed teen

jdeleon@bradenton.com

Nearly six months after a staff member at the Palmetto Youth Academy was accused of kissing a 17-year-old boy housed in the residential program, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has concluded its investigation and found no evidence that the kiss occurred, according to a report released last week.

The department’s investigation got underway in June after another boy housed in the program told the clinical director that he had seen a staffer kissing another boy. It was reported to the Department of Children and Families, which did not investigate the allegation because of a lack of details, including time and names.

Lacora Shanks and the teen were identified but when questioned, each denied that the kiss or any inappropriate relationship had occurred.

The witness later recanted his statement, claiming that he had not seen the kiss, but that it was a rumor he had heard.

Shanks is employed by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, which is contracted by the Department of Juvenile Justice to run the Palmetto Youth Academy. The residential program houses high-risk boys between the ages of 14 and 21 who have a primary diagnosis of substance abuse and/or co-occurring mental health disorder. It is located on the campus of the Manatee County jail.

“The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice takes our responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of the youth placed in our custody very seriously,” said a statement issued by department spokeswoman Amanda Slama. “The Department has zero tolerance for mistreatment or behavior that victimizes the youth entrusted in our care.”

Shanks was placed in a position with no contact with youth in the facility while the investigation was underway.

“When incidents occur in any of our programs, we take immediate action to investigate. This often includes calling local law enforcement agencies,” the department’s statement went on to say. “Staff in all programs are required to follow proper policies and procedures and are held fully accountable for their actions in violation of those policies and procedures. We will stop at nothing to protect the youth in our care and our communities.”

It unclear, however, why it took the department months to investigate te allegations. The investigation was officially closed on Nov. 28, according to the report.

Other boys housed in the program were interviewed, and also claimed to have heard similar rumors but said they had never witnessed an inappropriate relationship between Shanks and the teen. The teen’s room was also searched for possible notes written by Shanks and the teen but nothing was found.

“There is nothing showing that there is any inappropriate relationship transpiring between staff Lacora Shanks and youth (redacted),” the report states.

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