Augusta Youth Development Campus staff took at least an hour and 20 minutes to begin an outside search for five escapees or to inform the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office after a staff member spotted the inmates walking and called the facility.
According to a timeline provided by the Department of Juvenile Justice, a corrections officer on his way home called the facility at 8:45 p.m., five minutes after another corrections officer reported five youths missing from their unit. Complying with policy, a search was conducted throughout the entire facility before the search began outside the grounds, said DJJ’s director of communications, Jim Shuler, noting the size of the facility that sits on more than 450 acres.
The details of the escape have not been released pending an investigation, which the Georgia Bureau of Investigations will assist. However, Shuler provided the following sequence of events:
• 8:40 p.m. Corrections officer reports five detainees missing from unit.
• 8:45 p.m. Another corrections officer reports seeing five detainees on roadside.
• 9:07 p.m. YDC Director orders internal facility search and emergency head count.
• 9:17 p.m. YDC internal facility search confirms five detainees are missing from unit; interior facility search continues.
• 10 p.m. YDC staff discovers escape method and a ground search begins outside facility.
• 10:05 p.m. (approximately) YDC notifies local law enforcement of escape, requests search assistance.
• 10:45 p.m. Local law enforcement arrives at YDC.
Shuler declined to elaborate on the events.
Dispatchers for the sheriff’s office said they received a call from the facility at 10:30 p.m. asking for help finding the inmates. Shuler said the exact time of the call could not be confirmed Sunday.
The five escapees stole a car on Tobacco Road and led police on a chase Friday night. The car was abandoned and three youths were caught immediately. Two others fled.
One of the runners was caught quickly by the Department of Corrections canine team. Wayne Johnson, 18, remained at large for nearly two days, until a Richmond County deputy found him near Barton Chapel and Milledgeville roads just after 2 p.m. Sunday.
Johnson was booked into the Richmond County jail on charges of escape and theft by receiving, along with the other escapee who is charged as an adult, 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson. They are not related.
The three others, one 16 and two 15, were separated and taken to other DJJ secure facilities.
Few details were released by the DJJ immediately after the escape. It gave no description or photo, despite a request from The Augusta Chronicle for information to use in alerting the public.
Later, after the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office released Wayne Johnson’s name and a brief description, the DJJ added details to that description and announced a statewide alert, but did not confirm his name until after he was caught. No DJJ photograph was ever released. Other authorities said Johnson was serving time in the YDC for armed robbery.
The escape occurred hours after another YDC inmate, Michael Everidge, was sentenced to 17 years in prison for the beating death of Jade Holder at the facility, marking 11 months of upheaval at the campus. Everidge, now 18, was charged with murder after the fight.
The subsequent investigation revealed a culture of violence, sexual assault and bullying at the campus.
According to witness accounts, Everidge and Holder fought, and 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 spattered across the room, and Holder’s breathing was labored. Bystanders intervened and told Everidge he had gone too far, Assistant District Attorney Keith Johnson said in court Friday before Everidge pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter.
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.
Nash said her client accepted responsibility for his actions, but the blame must also fall on the YDC staff. Everidge held “gold card privileges,” including a later bedtime 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 for neglecting to lock the doors.
Immediately after the incident, YDC Director John Brady also was fired.
Soon after Everidge’s indictment, 11 employees resigned, were fired or were demoted.
DJJ commissioner Gale Buckner, who was brought in after the death, conducted multiple surprise visits to the facility, some of which ended in employee firings. Investigations revealed sexual misconduct, physical abuse and contraband smuggling by guards.
On Oct. 2, Buckner announced her retirement. An interim commissioner, DJJ Board Chairman Avery Niles, will step in at the beginning of November.
Staff writer Kyle Martin contributed to this report.