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South Carolina Juvenile Justice Agency Hit With Lawsuit

Scandal-scarred bureaucracy “failed to effectuate meaningful improvements …”

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The scandal-ravaged South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice (SCDJJ), its recently ousted director and its former top security officer are listed as defendants in a lawsuit filed in federal court earlier this week.

The suit was filed in U.S. district court in Columbia, S.C. by attorney Amy Gaffney on behalf of Ricky Dyckes, a former lieutenant and assistant unit manager at SCDJJ’s dystopian Broad River Road Complex (BRCC) just north of the state capital.

Dyckes’ name is familiar to regular readers of this news outlet. He was reportedly handcuffed and escorted from BRCC back in July after getting into a dispute with a supervisor over the agency’s chronically unsafe working conditions. Previously, Dyckes participated in a walkout at the agency in protest of its chronic mismanagement under former director Freddie Pough.

Dyckes was fired by SCDJJ in August of this year. His lawsuit names Pough as a defendant. It also names former SCDJJ executive director of security Velvet McGowan.

This news outlet has been covering problems at SCDJJ for several years. More recently, our news director Mandy Matney published a series of articles digging even deeper into the dysfunction – including the fallout from numerous issues raised in a scathing report published by the S.C. Legislative Audit Council (SCLAC) in April.

Matney was the first reporter in the state to cover the audit of SCDJJ – which determined the agency had lost over 32 percent of its security staff since 2017 while violence at its facilities increased by 42 percent over the same time frame.

Since then, Matney has chronicled the escalating violence in harrowing detail …

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In addition to the SCLAC audit, a report issued last February by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) slammed shortages of security staff at SCDJJ as creating an environment which “seriously harms youth or places them at substantial risk of serious harm from other youth.”

Despite these revelations, governor Henry McMaster steadfastly refused to fire Pough. In fact, he doubled down on his support for the incompetent bureaucrat. Not only that, the status quo politician verbally harangued a pair of state senators for attempting to bring some long-overdue accountability to this catastrophically mismanaged agency.

Three months after Pough’s resignation, McMaster has yet to nominate a permanent replacement for Pough.

Pough was hand-picked by McMaster to fix SCDJJ in 2017 after a similarly scathing audit forced the resignation of former governor Nikki Haley’s director.

He failed to fix the agency.

In fact, the violence escalated.

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RELATED | EMBATTLED JUVENILE JUSTICE DIRECTOR FINALLY STEPS DOWN

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Ten days prior to Pough’s resignation I published a lengthy treatise on the culture of secrecy at SCDJJ under Pough – including what appears to have been an organized campaign to suppress the flow of information to lawmakers and legislative auditors.

Among the information kept from the public? A February 2019 report from Dyckes documenting how one BRCC unit was “grossly understaffed” and how the lack of adequate security at the facility “compromised the safety of the juveniles and staff.”

Dyckes circulated the document to Pough, McGowan and “all upper management” at SCDJJ.

This wasn’t the only time Dyckes sounded off …

According to the lawsuit, “for years prior to his termination he had been openly and publicly expressing concerns about Department mismanagement, understaffing, and security of juveniles and staff, among other problems.”

These problems were “identical to the deficiencies revealed in the Legislative Audit Council’s report and the Department of Justice’s report,” the suit alleged.

Still, SCDJJ leadership “failed to effectuate meaningful improvements,” according to the pleading, neglecting to take the necessary steps to improve “the living conditions for juveniles and working conditions for staff.”

(Click to view)

(Via: Gaffney Law)

Dyckes’ lawyer is regarded as one of the top employment litigators in the entire country. Gaffney (above) is a Charleston-based attorney and founding partner of GaffneyLewis LLC. Her practice focuses on employment law, civil rights actions as well as personal injury litigation and mediations. A member of the National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals (NADN) and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), Gaffney was featured by “Best Lawyers in America” as its 2019 attorney of the year in the field of labor and employment litigation.

The lawsuit she filed on her client’s behalf accused SCDJJ and its former leaders of constitutional violations, wrongful termination and assault. It seeks “back pay, front pay, lost employment benefits, actual damages, consequential damages, special damages and interest thereon.”

It also seeks “punitive damages” against McGowan and Pugh as well as attorneys’ fees and costs and “such further relief as the court deems just and appropriate.”

“We are eager for Ricky to be vindicated through this process and trust that finally, after years of speaking out, Ricky’s concerns will be heard, heeded, and herald change,” Gaffney told me Friday.

Stay tuned … I look forward to updating readers on the various responses filed to this pleading as well as any news related to a potential settlement or trial date.

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THE LAWSUIT …

1-Complaint-filed-12.8.21

(Via: U.S. District Court)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Via: FITSNews)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that Chicago Blackhawks’ lid pictured above).

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