A South Carolina mother is suing the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice (SCDJJ) after her son was sexually assaulted, deprived of water and choked by facility staff members, according to a recent lawsuit.
The mother of the boy — who will be referred to in this story as “John Doe” — filed the bombshell lawsuit on July 27 in Richland County, South Carolina.
The lawsuit is further confirmation of what SCDJJ sources have been telling FITSNews for years — SCDJJ is spiraling out of control as the number of security officers decreases, violence spikes, and South Carolina children are caught in the crossfire.
John Doe has been held at the Broad River Road Complex (BRRC) in Columbia, S.C. since at least 2019, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims that the SCDJJ has deprived John Doe and other children at the BRRC of basic human rights such as sanitation, water, food and education.
According to the lawsuit, John Doe was sexually assaulted by a Juvenile Correction Officer (JCO) at a BRRC restroom in 2019.
This incident was reported to management, but the JCO still works at the BRRC, according to the lawsuit (while the lawsuit did not name this employee, FITSNews will investigate this incident further).
John Doe was hurt a number of times while in the custody of the SCDJJ, according to the lawsuit.
Earier this year, when a fire broke out in Maple dorm (as FITSNews reported here), Doe burnt his hand trying to put out the flames, according to the lawsuit.
He was then transferred to the Poplar C dorm, where he was “choked on a table by a DJJ employee named Cleveland,” the lawsuit said.
In May, he was transferred again to the Tree River Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility per the Disabilities and Special Needs. John Doe has a degree of autism and was diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety and depression.
John Doe has attempted suicide multiple times while in SCDJJ custody, the lawsuit said.
On July 6, the SCDJJ transferred John Doe back to the BRRC, where he was housed in the Laurel Unit and
“given a jumpsuit with a large hole in the groin area,” the lawsuit said.
GET SOUTH CAROLINA’S LATEST NEWS IN YOUR INBOX …
While at the BRRC, he asked for water for three straight days and had to drink toilet water to hydrate, the lawsuit said.
In mid-July, “the area in which (Doe) was housed was pepper sprayed,” and John Doe suffered chemical burns, according to the lawsuit.
At the time the lawsuit was published, John Doe was being held in isolation “without justification or cause,” the lawsuit said. FITSNews has spoken to dozens of SCJJ sources, who have confirmed that this happens on numerous occasions due to the dangerous staffing levels.
While in isolation, the SCDJJ has deprived John Doe of his basic human rights, including access to showers, sunlight, food, water and education.
Doe and other kids at BRRC “spend very little time outside their cells and have almost no common area,” the lawsuit said.
The SCDJJ “possesses the ability and means to solve the harm complained of herein, but fails and refuses to do so,” the lawsuit said.
The mother is being represented by Daniel C. Boles, a North Charleston attorney.
SCDJJ ‘Dumpster Fire’
Earlier this week, FITSNews founding editor Will Folks reported that the SCDJJ reportedly handcuffed one of the top guards at the agency – lieutenant Ricky Dykes — and escorted him off the BRCC property.
“It’s only going to get worse now that Dykes is gone,” a SCDJJ source told FITSNews. “The kids really respected and loved Dykes. He was one of the only male guards left there who could really control them.”
Dykes was one of many guards who participated in a walkout at the agency earlier this summer.
Multiple SCDJJ sources told FITSNews that Dykes was fired in retaliation for speaking out against the agency.
Dykes was one of many whistleblowers at the SCDJJ who have been sounding the alarm to expose the imploding disaster inside the state-run facilities.
This spring, lawmakers met multiple times to discuss a disturbing audit on the disastrous situation at the SCDJJ.
Essentially, auditors said SCDJJ officials have created a disastrous and exceedingly dangerous cycle within its facilities. They aren’t spending enough money on programs to keep incarcerated teenagers occupied and out of trouble, which has sparked an increase of violence. Adding fuel to the flames, the agency has failed to offer essential employees competitive wages, so its security staff members are leaving in droves.
And the violence continues to spike.
“Someone will come out in a body bag whether it be the kids or staff because that’s how bad the situation is going,” one SCDJJ source told FITSNews.
Unfortunately, Gov. Henry McMaster — who hand-picked SCDJJ director Freddie Pough to fix the scandal-scarred agency — has ignored the exceedingly dangerous situation inside the teen detention centers.
In fact, at the exact same time senators held a hearing to review the scathing SCDJJ audit on Wednesday, McMaster attended a press conference where he praised Pough and announced a $12 million federal grant for SCDJJ.
“I mean it just looks to me like a dumpster fire,” S.C. senator Dick Harpootlian said of the SCDJJ.
Since 2016, the SCDJJ has lost about 32 percent of its security staff members, according to the audit.
In April, six South Carolina senators sent a letter to Attorney General Alan Wilson asking his office to investigate possible criminal activity among SCDJJ officials.
“We were shocked to hear many of the disturbing findings, ranging from potentially covering up instances of sexual assault and abuse to falsifying records and misuse of funds,” S.C. senators Katrina Shealy, Shane Martin, Mia McLeod, Dick Harpootlian, Brian Adams, and Michael Johnson, who are all on the subcommittee, said in the letter provided to FITSNews.
Agents of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) confirmed they were investigating the SCDJJ.
Earlier this month, S.C. senator Katrina Shealy – a leading advocate for SCDJJ reform – paid an unannounced visit to the agency’s Broad River facility. Shealy told FITSNews that conditions at the BRRC were deplorable — with urine-soaked and feces-stained cells — and kids were being held in a state of near-perpetual lockdown.
Other Horrifying Incidents
Since 2017, SCDJJ has seen a few horrifying incidents that have been covered extensively by this news outlet.
In May, FITSNews reported the heartbreaking story of 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.
“DJJ’s internal investigation into this incident found that it was caused, in part, because supervisory security staff were assisting with regular juvenile transport, and were therefore unaware of the current locations of other juveniles in the facility,” the SCDJJ audit said.
Last year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) found that conditions at the BRRC violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution.
According to the audit, the increase of violent outbreaks combined with the staff shortage is likely contributing to the unconstitutional use of isolation. Because there aren’t enough guards to control the inmate population, guards are resorting to isolation as a last-ditch effort.
Last April, a SCDJJ source sent FITSNews a video exposing how “out of control” the situation is at the BRRC.
Security footage captured a group of about 10 inmates breaking into a pod, locking it down, and completely trashing it. The video shows 20 minutes of the chaos, but a source at SCDJJ told us the incident lasted for more than an hour before officials had enough employees on duty to break it up.
The source told FITSNews that the video (below) showed fairly typical behavior.
“This type of stuff is going on every day and someone is going to get killed if something isn’t done,” a SCDJJ source previously told FITSNews. “The kids are just running wild and we don’t have anyone to respond.”
FITSNews will continue to report on the imploding disaster at SCDJJ. Stay tuned…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an award-winning 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 story ideas, comments, suggestions and tips to [email protected].
WANNA SOUND OFF?
Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our stories? Or an issue you’d like to address proactively? We have an open microphone policy here at FITSNews! Submit your own letter to the editor (or guest column) via-email HERE. Got a tip for a story? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE.