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Guards watched football, played on phones while youths in Dallas County lockup had sex

Posted by on Sep. 29, 2017 at 11:29 PM
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One guard watched football in a boss's office. Another sat with her back to the kids. Many others kept their eyes glued to their phones or left the room unattended.
During these times, boys locked up for sex offenses in Dallas County had ample opportunity to engage in sex acts with one another from November through April, according to a damning report by a state watchdog issued this week. The report — obtained by The Dallas Morning News — found conditions at the county's Lyle B. Medlock Youth Treatment Center to be far worse than county officials initially portrayed.
The sexual contact among juvenile detainees continued because of a "lack of concern regarding safety, security and welfare" of the kids, says the report, drafted by the independent ombudsman for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

At least five boys ages 13 to 17 engaged in the sex acts, including oral sex, investigators found. The incidents occurred while the youths were being forced to sleep on mattresses on the floor of a multipurpose room during periods of understaffing. According to the report, the youths slept on the floor — where they were aware of the gaps in supervision — for most nights over a period of six months. In May, Medlock officials said the juveniles slept on the floor only about twice a week.

County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who requested the ombudsman investigation, said he wanted to fire the Juvenile Department's executive director, Terry Smith. Smith lied about being unaware of the sex incidents and the fact that kids were sleeping on the floor of the room, which is used as a cafeteria, Price alleged.
"It starts at the top," Price said. "You hold management responsible. Nobody was minding the store."
But Smith said the responsibility lay with the staffers below her who didn't report to her what was going on, though she acknowledged that she should have had a "firmer hand" on what was happening in her department.


Smith said she had worked to correct the lapses in communication by starting to hold weekly meetings with the detention center leaders. And her team is now conducting more frequent unannounced rounds. The number of vacant juvenile supervision officer positions at Medlock has dropped, from 12 in May to three now, she said. Also, she moved the boys in the sex-offender program, Successful Thinking And Responsible Sexuality, or STARS, to the Jerome McNeil Detention Center, where each youth has his own cell at night.
Those changes are "a step in the right direction," said Debbie Unruh, chief ombudsman. "It's a definite improvement. They have more to do."
Incidents revealed
The sexual incidents came to light on April 18, when a youth told a therapist that he had engaged in sex acts with other juveniles on multiple occasions. Medlock managers notified the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, as required, as well as the parents of the kids involved.
Price learned of the incidents from a parent. At a May 22 public meeting of the county juvenile board, Price grilled Medlock Superintendent Marilyn Boss about what had happened. Boss admitted that the juveniles had been sleeping on their mattresses on the floor a couple of nights per week. She described the sex acts as "touching" but "no penetration."
None of the youths alleged that they had been forced into sex, though juveniles in confinement aren't legally able to consent to sexual activity.

Smith, the director, said Thursday that that board meeting was the first time she had heard of the boys sleeping in the multipurpose room or the sexual incidents.
According to the report, staffing levels during night shifts reached critical lows last fall. On Nov. 17, a manager emailed shift supervisors granting permission for them to have 24 youths sleep in the multipurpose room on Sundays and Mondays. That would enable the skeleton staff to maintain the state-required ratio of one guard for every 24 youths during sleep time.
Staff members had used the multipurpose room in this way before, so supervisors didn't feel the need to report it to their bosses, according to the report. The use of mattresses on the floor ballooned to nearly every night and "became the norm," the report said.


The ombudsman's report raised the question of whether putting the kids on the floor was necessary in the first place.
"It must be noted that once the sexual misconduct incident came to light, the use of the [multipurpose room] was immediately stopped, although staffing levels had not changed," the report said.
Department leaders denied knowing about the practice, despite the mentioning of it on a January ombudsman inspection report. Inspectors found that the practice violated the standard requiring that beds be raised above the floor.

Smith's deputy directors told investigators they had known about the sexual misconduct allegation since a psychologist had reported it to them, though they didn't know until the May 22 board meeting that it involved oral sex. They told investigators that Boss, the Medlock superintendent, "continued to downplay the extent of the misconduct."
Meanwhile, Boss told investigators that "this was not alarming behavior by these youth." She also said, according to the report, that the only reason the youths reported the incidents was that they knew they were going to be polygraphed.
Boss, who is retiring soon, didn't return a call seeking comment.
One guard
Supervision was clearly lax in the multipurpose room, the report said. Most nights, only one guard was in the room, while a supervisor sat in an office nearby from which not all of the detainees were visible. Sometimes, while the guard went on break, the supervisor was the only one watching. That's when "the residents reportedly took advantage of the lack of sight and performed sexual acts on each other," the report said.
The youths told investigators that there were no staff members in the multipurpose room "for periods of time" and that when guards were there, they would often read or play on their phones, which isn't allowed. One resident said a sex act occurred while a guard was watching football in the supervisor's office; another happened while all the staff members were in the supervisor's office; and another occurred while a guard sat with her back to the kids.
Investigators relied on interviews, shift logs and other records; there was no video surveillance in the multipurpose room, though there is video surveillance in the dorms.

The report concluded that 10 factors led to the sexual incidents. Among them: No one tried to fix the staffing shortages on the night shift; no one was held responsible for staffing levels; and there was a lack of communication among management and a lack of oversight by Smith and her leadership team.
Smith, who announced in June that she would retire next March to be with her grandchildren, pledged to take disciplinary action against the officers who didn't supervise the kids. The report doesn't name the staffers, but Unruh said she would provide names to the department.
"If you're more interested in being on the phone or watching football than supervising kids, you need to be sitting at home and not working with kids," Smith said.
County Judge Clay Jenkins, who sits on the juvenile board with Price, said he wouldn't vote to fire Smith because he wants to find out who made the bad decisions or looked the other way when they were made, and not just "scapegoat" Smith.
"She didn't know about what was happening in her department," Jenkins said. "But she didn't make those decisions. Both those things are a problem." To make sure it doesn't happen again, he said, everyone involved should be addressed.

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/dallas-county/2017/09/29/guards-watched-football-played-phones-youths-dallas-county-lockup-sex?utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook#link_time=1506687459
by on Sep. 29, 2017 at 11:29 PM
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