As a criminal investigation continues into the November death of a teenager at the Augusta Youth Development Campus, personnel files show one of the employees fired in a shake-up there had committed three acts of employee misconduct two years earlier but received only a “discussion” from a supervisor.
During the 2009 investigation, which took more than six months, Sharon Taylor continued to receive her pay, earning nearly $19,000 during that period, according to the files obtained by The Augusta Chronicle through an open records request.
Taylor, a counselor at the YDC, was one of three employees fired Dec. 16 during the investigation into the death of Jade Holder, a 19-year-old who was fatally beaten in his cell Nov. 7. Michael Elveridge, 17, has been charged with murder in the case.
Taylor’s dismissal letter said she was being let go because of her relationship with a youth identified as S.S. “while he was under the care and custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice and after his release from the facility.”
The department has declined comment on the nature of the relationship.
In 2009, Taylor was suspended with pay for 28 weeks during a different investigation. At a biweekly salary of $1,350.76, she was paid $18,910.64. The investigation found Taylor violated employee conduct rules three times but she was allowed to return to work with no other penalty other than a discussion with her supervisor.
Emily Gest, who was Juvenile Justice’s communications director until she left Jan. 3, said in an e-mail, “I can’t speak for what happened under a prior administration – particularly since many if not all of the decision makers are no longer working here. We are mindful of our responsibility to be good stewards of the public’s resources, and present policy is to expedite investigations involving employees on paid suspension.”
An incident report filed March 25, 2009, said correction officer Carla Chance accused Taylor of employee misconduct. Chance said Taylor had been “asking personal questions” about her pregnancy, obtained personal information about her and shown up to one of her doctor’s appointments to argue about correctional officer Roosevelt Mealing. The director at the time, Tom Brady, suspended Taylor the next day.
Todd Weeks, who was the director of the Eastman YDC until February 2011, started the investigation May 19 – almost two months after Taylor was put on suspension – and finalized a report July 9. Taylor, still on paid suspension, returned to work three months later in October.
In the investigation report, Weeks found Chance and Taylor were both pregnant with Mealing’s children. It also stated that Mealing had dated Kendra Strowbridge, who was a lieutenant at the facility at the time and was one of the employees demoted Dec. 16.
Strowbridge, who had been promoted to assistant director at the Augusta YDC, accepted a demotion and transfer and is now a lieutenant at the Augusta Regional YDC. Her dismissal letter said she was let go because of “the department’s loss of confidence in your leadership abilities.”
Weeks’ 2009 report said Mealing had filed several complaints against Strowbridge for “sexual harassment and retaliation,” but that Strowbridge said they were unsubstantiated. Strowbridge was not mentioned in Weeks’ findings.
However, Chance, Mealing and Taylor were listed as violating the ethics standard because their relationship had “caused conflicts of interest among staff and resulted in a disruption of the daily operation of the facility.”
Taylor was accused of two other violations as well. The fighting between Chance and Taylor at the facility had caused other staffers to complain to their supervisors. On one occasion, Taylor had to be escorted off campus.
Taylor’s third violation was that she had “failed to fully cooperate with the investigation when she made false and misleading statements,” Weeks stated. Weeks alleged that Taylor lied to him about the day she went to visit Chance at her doctor’s appointment. Taylor denied in the report that she had visited Chance at the doctor’s office. Mealing, Chance and a few others said she had been there.
Mary Fletcher, Juvenile Justice’s program coordinator for Secure Campuses, received at least three recommendations to fire Taylor from the regional administrator, program coordinator/director of secure campuses action and the facility director. However, the employee relations manager and legal services both stated there was not sufficient legal evidence to terminate her employment.
The “director’s final submission” was submitted Oct. 6, and Taylor was taken off suspension Oct. 8. Her discussion with her supervisor, however, did not happen until Dec. 23.
Taylor's personnel file also revealed some past problems with the law. In filling out a Georgia Security Questionnaire Loyalty Oath, she reported three incidents where she was convicted by federal, state or other law enforcement authorities. She acknowledged a speeding citation, a lack of insurance proof citation and theft by receiving charge.
When given space on the form to explain, Taylor wrote that she did not “really think I was speeding, but I accepted the ticket and I paid it.”
For the insurance citation, she said she was driving her sister’s car home because her sister was under the influence. She acknowledged that she knew her sister did not have insurance.
She explained the theft by stating, “I can’t explain why I bought something for less. Back then it seem(ed) like the right thing to do.”
On the bottom of the page, under the explanations, she wrote, “We live and we learn,” and included a drawing of a “smiley” face.
Taylor’s records stated she was given two promotions since her hiring in 2006 – one in September 2007 and another in May 2008.