This weekend, Michelle Hunter created a petition asking Pough to step down.
“The children of South Carolina have suffered from his inability to uphold his position,” the petition said. “It’s time for his reign of incompetency to be over.”
The petition was created days after a grueling 3.5 hour legislative hearing where Pough was grilled by lawmakers after a damning report by the S.C. Legislative Audit Council (SCLAC) showed major failures and mismanagement at the SCDJJ.
The SCLAC report concluded that the agency is now worse than it was in 2017, when SCLAC’s last audit led to the resignation of the former SCDJJ director, who was appointed by Nikki Haley.
The audit provides evidence on what sources have been telling FITSNews for years — SCDJJ is spiraling out of control as the number of security officers decreases and the number of violent incidents climbs. Auditors accused Pough of allocating funds in the wrong places while safety is such a huge concern.
SCDJJ has lost over 32 percent of its security staff since 2017, while violence has increased by 42 percent at its facilities, according to the audit report.
Lawmakers are not only concerned that Pough is mismanaging the prisons he’s in charge of — they’re worried that he might have committed crimes.
During the hearing last week, S.C. Sen. Dick Harpootlian said Pough was committing crimes by not properly reporting the violent incidents that are happening to children in his facilities. He then asked the SCDJJ director if he would resign.
Pough said no — despite lawmakers’ opinions of him.
In a previous hearing, Harpootlian called the SCDJJ a “dumpster fire.“
At Thursday’s hearing, Harpootlian said he read the heartbreaking story FITSNews exclusively reported — a 16-year-old girl at the Upstate Evaluation Center (UEC) tried to kill herself earlier this year and wrote in a note that she did it to expose abuse at SCDJJ.
Harpootlian questioned Pough on the suicide attempt and Pough admitted to not reporting the incident to the S.C. Law Enforcement Division (SLED) or the S.C. Department of Social Services (SCDSS).
“If there’s a threat to a child’s life, you have a statutory duty to report it to DSS or SLED or both,” Harpootlian told Pough, reading the law. “Did you in that case?”
Pough said no.
“You understand that what you’re doing is a crime?” Harpootlian asked.
Pough said no.
“You’re saying that this young lady tried to kill herself and left a note — and that note reads that she tried to kill herself because of the way she’s being treated in your facility, and you don’t report that to SLED or DSS?” Harpootlian asked Pough. “Is that right?”
Pough failed to answer the question directly and said he needed to read the statute again.
“So you have been there three years and don’t understand what your statutory duties are?” Harpootlian asked Pough. “Don’t you think you should be reading the statutes?”
Pough essentially admitted to not understanding the law and his responsibilities.
The online petition said that Pough should be immediately removed from his duties considering that he doesn’t even understand the legal obligations of his job.
In addition to the petition, other concerned South Carolina citizens have created a Facebook advocacy group called “Let the Walls Talk – Exposing the SCDJJ.”
Pressure is building for Gov. Henry McMaster — who is up for re-election next year — to fire the embattled director.
McMaster is highly unlikely to fire Pough, considering he has fiercely stood by him even after the scathing SCLAC audit.
On Thursday, S.C. Senator Katrina Shealy — who has led the fight to fix the SCDJJ — said she would schedule a meeting with McMaster in the next few weeks to discuss the major concerns with the agency.
In the meantime, six lawmakers have asked Attorney General Alan Wilson‘s office to investigate the SCDJJ for possible criminal activity.
As lawmakers fight to fix the SCJJJ, the staffing situation continues to get worse with frontline workers leaving in droves, according to our sources.
Several SCDJJ frontline workers told us that they often work 24-hour shifts because the staffing shortage is so severe.
“I can tell you this is an incredibly dangerous situation to put both staff and juveniles in,” an SCDJJ employee said. “As staff, we aren’t able to function working that long.”
FITSNews will keep a close eye on the SCDJJ in the next few weeks. Stay tuned…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an investigative journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Mandy also hosts the Murdaugh Murders podcast. Want to contact Mandy? Send your tips to [email protected].
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