Friday’s sentencing of Michael Everidge to 17 years in prison should have closed 11 turbulent months at Augusta’s Youth Development Campus, but it didn’t.
Just hours after Everidge’s day in court, five YDC residents escaped the local facility. Three were captured after a police chase involving a stolen car. One was caught Saturday.
It was another bad day in what has been a bad year at the Augusta YDC. The situation became public after a Nov. 7 fight between residents proved fatal.
Everidge, now 18, was charged with murder after the fight at the YDC campus that left 19-year-old Jade Holder dead and lifted the lid on a culture of violence, sexual assault and bullying at Augusta’s YDC.
In the wake of Everidge’s indictment, 11 employees resigned or were fired or demoted, including the center’s director.
It started when two youths locked up in Unit 43 bumped shoulders and challenged each other to a fight.
There was no backing down. Anyone who refused to fight risked harassment and physical violence from the other inmates, Assistant District Attorney Keith Johnson said Friday before Everidge pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter.
On that night, Everidge and Holder exchanged words and decided to fight in Holder’s cell. According to witness accounts of the fight, Holder was winning when he threw up his arms to signal that the fight was over. Everidge grabbed Holder and threw him to the ground, causing Holder to hit his head on the concrete floor. As Holder lay on the floor, Everidge hit him three times and kicked him. Blood was spattered across the room, and Holder’s breathing was labored. Bystanders intervened and said Everidge had gone too far, according to Johnson.
The only guard, Marlon McCreary, spent the next 20 minutes rounding up the youths in the unit before calling for emergency assistance, and it was another 20 minutes before medical workers arrived. By the time Holder was admitted to Medical College of Georgia Hospital, more than an hour had passed, said Everidge’s attorney, Katrell Nash. He died of head injuries and liver damage from lack of oxygen.
On Friday, Johnson urged Superior Court Judge Daniel Craig to impose the maximum period of incarceration. Send a strong, unfiltered message to other youths that such behavior is unacceptable, Johnson said.
Young people are sent to the YDC to be rehabilitated: “We don’t send them to die,” Johnson said.
Nash said that her client accepted responsibility for his actions but that the blame must also fall on the YDC’s staff. Everidge held gold card privileges, including a later bed time of 10 p.m. Holder, as a blue card holder, should have been locked up at 9 p.m. but wasn’t. McCreary, the guard responsible for allowing the blue card inmates to wander Unit 43, was fired Nov. 10 for neglecting to lock the doors.
“As a result of your conduct, residents were allowed to enter and exit the rooms of other residents at will and fatally assault a youth under the care and custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice,” McCreary’s termination letter said.
“(Everidge) did not intend for this to happen; it was not a malicious act on his part,” Nash contended, saying he was in a “culture and environment that nurtured fighting and fending for yourself.”
Immediately after the incident, YDC Director John Brady and McCreary were fired.
As the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and other agencies looked into the facility, three more employees were fired and two others were demoted or transferred. Investigations revealed sexual misconduct, physical abuse and contraband smuggling by guards.
In August, the state established a confidential tip line to help curb abuse at Augusta’s YDC and others across the state.
“This has been a difficult time for everyone involved,” Juvenile Justice spokesman Jim Shuler said Friday. He thanked the GBI and the district attorney’s office for their efforts and said his agency had no further comment.