Dark secrets of Florida’s juvenile justice system : A Miami Herald investigation
Forty-three juveniles at the Palmetto Youth Academy last week staged a riot that required sheriff’s deputies to respond before officials could get the facility near the Manatee County jail under control, according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
The academy, located just north of the jail at 14494 Harlee Road, is a Florida Department of Juvenile Justice residential program that houses high-risk juveniles between the ages of 14 and 21 who have a primary diagnosis of substance abuse and/or mental health disorders. The facility, which holds a maximum of 48 residents, is run by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, a private company based out of Tampa.
According to the sheriff’s office incident report, staff members reported Sept. 4 that the 43 involved juveniles, “were throwing chairs and breaking windows.”
Deputies responded “to the disturbance with lights and siren based on the information given,” the sheriff’s report states.
When deputies entered the facility, they ordered all three pods to be locked down and all of the juveniles to their rooms. All of the juveniles complied but one who remained seated in the day room. Deputies say that juvenile had to be handcuffed and escorted to his room.
Deputies report that no staff members or juveniles were injured during the incident.
TrueCore Regional Director Kirstie Naoom said she was unaware of the disturbance as of early Wednesday afternoon, when contacted by the Bradenton Herald.
TrueCore’s Communications Director Jack Eich relayed a different and contradicting account of what happened after consulting with “TrueCore people who have knowledge of the incident.”
According to TrueCore, only seven of the juveniles were involved and all complied with the orders given, Eich wrote in an email: “At no time were the youth or staff in any danger and there were no reported injuries.”
“The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice takes incidents like these very seriously,” DJJ Communications Director Amanda Slama told the Bradenton Herald in an email. “The Department is currently investigating this incident.”
In March 2014, the Bradenton Police Department responded to a riot at the department’s only other facility in Manatee County, the Manatee Regional Juvenile Detention Center, a 52-bed lock-up facility near LECOM Field.
What appeared to start over some boys getting upset because they hadn’t yet been able to shower ended hours later with toppled furniture, broken lighting hanging from the ceiling, four of the juveniles in custody and allegations that staff did little to nothing to prevent the riot.
A story detailing that riot was part of the two-year-long Miami-Herald investigation, “Fight Club”, that exposed the use of unnecessary and excessive force, rampant sexual misconduct, medical neglect and squalid conditions within the state’s juvenile lockups and residential programs.