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State department of Juvenile Justice stands by youth facility operator after sexual assault

Roommates charged in sexual assault on teen

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It happened in the dark.

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Building C is a dormitory at the WestCare-Georgia facility for teens off Mike Padgett Highway.   Michael Holahan/Staff
Michael Holahan/Staff
Building C is a dormitory at the WestCare-Georgia facility for teens off Mike Padgett Highway.


Four larger teens had been talking about raping him -- one of them had been winking at him lately -- but he thought it was just talk. When the lights went out in the C dorm of WestCare-Georgia Intensive Residential Treatment Program, a privately run drug and alcohol recovery center for incarcerated teens off Mike Padgett Highway, they moved on him.

He went for the door to yell for help, but when he clutched the handle, one of them grabbed him by the neck in a choke hold and pulled him to the floor. They fondled him and pulled his pants off. As he thrashed and kicked, one of them took a toilet plunger from the bathroom, rubbed lotion on it, and attacked him with the handle.

"They did not say anything," the victim told an investigator. "They were just laughing."

That account is based on statements by the 16-year-old victim and two accused perpetrators contained in the state Department of Juvenile Justice's investigative file on the Jan. 2 incident, which The Augusta Chronicle obtained through an Open Records Act request.

Four-and-a-half months later, the department is standing by the contractor operating the facility, even though its investigation confirmed that a sexual assault occurred there.

"The investigation did not substantiate any negligence on their part," said Rob Rosenbloom, deputy commissioner for Community Services and Intake, "and we believe the children are still safe there."

NO SANCTIONS have been imposed on WestCare-Georgia, a division of a Las Vegas-based nonprofit in the third year of a five-year contract to run the center at an annual cost of about $2 million, and no employees have been disciplined. According to the department's statistics on the center, this is the only youth-on-youth sexual act, abusive or not, that has occurred under WestCare.

Corrective actions since taken by the company include adopting a zero-tolerance policy for "horse play" and assigning extra keys so counselors overseeing dormitories can keep watch over residents during shift change, according to documents in the file.

Also substantiating the assault were the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Augusta District Attorney's office.

Terrance Tafia Felder, 15, of Riverdale, Ga.; William Mark Richardson, 16, of Gillsville, Ga.; Zyheed Trevron Roberts, 16, of Marietta, Ga.; and Austin Sokol, 15, of Stockbridge, Ga., have been indicted on charges of aggravated sexual battery, one of the so-called "seven deadly sins" that automatically bump their case up to adult court.

Rosenbloom said there's no excuse for a sex crime to be committed on a child in state custody at any facility, especially a small one.

The WestCare program -- housed in four buildings surrounded by a security fence behind the Augusta Youth Development Campus -- has 30 beds, compared to the 120 at the long-term YDC or the 64 at the short-term Augusta Regional Youth Detention Center.

But these things happen, Rosenbloom said.

"You still have the dynamic of kids interacting with kids," he said.

That explanation isn't good enough for the victim's mother or the family's attorney, David Groover, of Calhoun, Ga.

"At this point," Groover said, "there is no indication that any steps have been taken by (the Department of Family and Children Services) or WestCare to ensure that children entrusted to their care are not subject to this kind of trauma and abuse, and that this never happens again to a child in protective custody of the state of Georgia."

ANOTHER CORRECTIVE action was for WestCare to repair its camera surveillance system, which according to e-mails had been knocked out by a lightning strike in early August and would have cost about $660 to repair.

Cameras were aimed at the open sleeping area in C dorm, but WestCare-Georgia Vice President Michael Langford said he doesn't think anything useful would have been captured had they been operable.

That's because the lights were out.

The attack occurred during shift change, about 10 p.m., according to the documents, while the dorm's sole residential counselor on duty was in the control room briefing his reliever, telling him that some of the boys -- there were 10 in the unit that night -- seemed "excited to see him" and might act out on him. The incoming counselor, Harvey Woody, let the other counselor out the main door, then noticed the commotion.

It broke up when he stuck his key in the door to the sleeping area, Woody told a Juvenile Justice investigator. He saw several boys grabbing at another, one of them holding a plunger, but no one had his pants down, he said.

Later, after Woody radioed for help, another counselor, Erika Jordan, turned the lights on and chastised the boys for horseplay. She saw the victim lying in his bed.

"He appeared to have a upset look on his face," Jordan wrote in her statement, "but resident did not say anything."

That was Saturday night. Two days later, the victim reported what happened to a therapist.

"The youth (the four accused assailants) told me that if I told what happened, they would jump me," the victim said, "but I was so mad that I told on Monday.

"I think I should be able to go home."

Of the four, only Felder and Roberts gave statements to the Juvenile Justice investigator. Both said that it was rowdiness that went too far. Felder said it started as slap boxing, but then they "kept messing with (the victim).

"It all started with playing," Felder wrote in his statement, "and it turned into something more serious."

WESTCARE'S OWN investigation, Langford said, didn't substantiate a sexual assault.

He noted that the victim waited two days to report it and cited conflicting statements in his account, but said the company alerted Juvenile Justice, DFCS and police anyway.

"Safety of clients and staff is first and foremost with us," Langford said. "We'd rather have an abundance of caution."

Some of those contradictions are apparent in the investigative file. In the victim's early statements, to the therapist and a WestCare nurse, he said he was fondled and one of the boys tried to assault him with the plunger, but no penetration occurred. The nurse and Trinity Hospital found no evidence of physical injury.

But later he complained of bleeding and changed his account. Visits to University Hospital and Medical College of Georgia Hospital also found no signs of injury.

District Attorney Ashley Wright and GBI Thomson office Special Agent in Charge Gary Nicholson wouldn't say what led them to conclude he told the truth in the second story. A memo from the Juvenile Justice Office of Investigations, reaching the same conclusion, cites corroborating statements by residents whose names are redacted.

GROOVER SAID he has uncovered other records showing that his client, whose name The Chronicle is withholding because he is a sexual assault victim, went to Trinity Hospital a few weeks before the incident, claiming he was hit in the crotch with a football.

"There's evidence in his medical records that he was treated for other injury to his genitals, and for infection, while he was at WestCare," he said. "And those are well-known symptoms, red flags, of child sexual abuse. And, at least, WestCare failed to monitor and supervise these children."

The boy's mother, whose name the newspaper is also withholding so as not to identify her son, said he got embroiled in the state child welfare system while his father was in state prison on methamphetamine charges and she was serving six months in a county jail for driving with a suspended license and giving false information.

"He was just lost without us, you know," she said.

While living with relatives, he repeatedly got in trouble for running away, skipping school and testing positive for marijuana. He was sent to WestCare after running away from a juvenile rehabilitation camp, she said.

He's now at the Georgia Industrial Children's Home in Macon, a group home, and she's petitioning Bartow County Juvenile Court to let him come home.

She said he doesn't want to talk about what happened in Augusta. "He just wants to forget it ever happened," she said. "He was really brave to even tell. I commend him for that. His life was in jeopardy."

Rick McDevitt, president of the Georgia Alliance for Children and a longtime critic of Juvenile Justice, said the incident shows why he opposes locking children up for small crimes. Only the truly dangerous ones should be incarcerated, he said.

TROUBLING NUMBERS of youth-on-youth sexual assaults were part of what led McDevitt to initiate a U.S. Justice Department investigation in 1998 that led to a memorandum of agreement to fix "egregious" conditions, which Juvenile Justice finally emerged from under last year.

"They still put kids in danger," he said, "not only in their own facilities, but with some of their contractors who don't do a better job.

"We've called it for years 'state-sponsored child abuse.' "

Awaiting trial, awaiting justice

Four teens from metro Atlanta have been indicted for aggravated sexual battery in the Jan. 2 assault on a 16-year-old at WestCare-Georgia Intensive Residential Treatment Program.

While two of the accused youths are apparently back with their families, the victim and his mother remain separated.

The teens involved:

TERRANCE TAFIA FELDER

- AGE: 15

- FROM: Riverdale, Ga., Clayton County

- STATUS: Incarcerated at the DeKalb Regional Youth Detention Center

- HEIGHT & WEIGHT: Not available because he has not been formally charged and booked in the Richmond County jail

- JUVENILE RECORD: Conspiracy to commit burglary, burglary, affray, theft by taking, violation of probation, sale/distribution/possession of tobacco products by a minor, loitering and prowling, criminal trespass, possession of marijuana, entering a motor vehicle with intent to commit theft, criminal trespass, truancy

Note: Photograph not available

WILLIAM MARK RICHARDSON

- AGE: 16 (15 at the time of the assault)

- FROM: Gillsville, Ga., Hall County

- STATUS: Under bond conditions, living with his mother. Granted a $20,000 bond by Senior Judge William M. Fleming Jr., on Feb. 12. A bench warrant was issued for his arrest on April 9 when he failed to appear for arraignment, but his attorney, David Steel, said that was done in error because his client was never sent notice of the court date.

- HEIGHT & WEIGHT: 5 feet, 10 inches; 207 pounds

- JUVENILE RECORD: Obstruction of an officer, possession of alcoholic beverages, skipping school, violation of probation, failing drug tests

ZYHEED TREVRON ROBERTS

- AGE: 16 (15 at the time of the assault)

- FROM: Marietta, Ga., Cobb County

- STATUS: Incarcerated at the Augusta Regional Youth Detention Center

- HEIGHT & WEIGHT: 5 feet, 10 inches; 150 pounds

- JUVENILE RECORD: Disorderly conduct, disruption of a public school, burglary, loitering/prowling, criminal trespass, terroristic threats, possession of marijuana, failing drug tests

AUSTIN SOKOL

- AGE: 15

- FROM: Stockbridge, Ga., Henry County

- STATUS: Granted a $20,000 bond by Senior Judge Albert M. Pickett on Jan. 15, which required him to report directly to Henry County Juvenile Probation.

- HEIGHT & WEIGHT: 5 feet, 11 inches; 160 pounds

- JUVENILE RECORD: Not available, as Henry County Juvenile Court has yet to respond to a request for records

THE VICTIM

- AGE: 16

- FROM: Cartersville, Ga., Bartow County

- STATUS: Living at Georgia Industrial Children's Home in Macon. His mother is petitioning Bartow County Juvenile Court to reunite him with her.

- HEIGHT & WEIGHT: 5 feet, 6 inches; 125 pounds

- JUVENILE RECORD: Not available, as Bartow County Juvenile Court has declined to release records. According to his mother, he was in the custody of the Department of Family and Children Services and Juvenile Justice for running away, truancy and failing drug tests.

Sources: Richmond County Sheriff's Office booking records; Richmond County Superior Court Clerk's office records; Clayton County Juvenile Court; Hall County Juvenile Court; Cobb County Juvenile Court; Calhoun, Ga., attorney David Groover and the victim's mother

Comments (33) Add comment
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corgimom
48033
Points
corgimom 05/16/10 - 06:16 am
0
0
The people that are really to

The people that are really to blame for this is that child's mother and father, for their criminal acts.

charliemanson
1
Points
charliemanson 05/16/10 - 06:19 am
0
0
Welcome to prison life, son.

Welcome to prison life, son.

justus4
124
Points
justus4 05/16/10 - 07:03 am
0
0
...and...? The story attempts
Unpublished

...and...? The story attempts to re-created visions that most citizens don't approve of, but what do anyone expect from teens who have been thrown away. And the prison officials will say, "we do everything possible to protect our inmates" but yet these events are reported. These are casualities of a free society with profits being made off the backs of these kids, so who is really surprised? No sense in reaching for the high moral ground now, this well-establish scheme of prison "babysitting" is big money and the young lives damaged in that effort don't even register. This article proves that the "facility operators" operation will not change...and what is the exact NAME of the so-called "facility operators"? Oh, don't want to give too much info away because of all the possible bad press. Great country, eh?

Patty-P
3521
Points
Patty-P 05/16/10 - 07:40 am
0
0
Why was a toilet plunger left

Why was a toilet plunger left with them anyway? It doesn't sound to me like there is any supervision at the facility.

reader54
603
Points
reader54 05/16/10 - 12:19 pm
0
0
This facility is negligent

This facility is negligent for not repairing the surveillance system and for not having an infra-red camera that detects at night. It makes me wonder who the major stockholder's are. These are KIDS and should not have to worry about rape. Who hasn't made a dumb mistake as a kid? What would you think if this was YOUR kid? That said, the alledged victim's story sounds suspect if the FACTS were reported correctly. Supposedly, he changed his story and said that he should be released.

mary dits
2
Points
mary dits 05/16/10 - 08:25 am
0
0
this kid was in trouble for

this kid was in trouble for skipping school, having at some time used marijuana, and running away. too bad he got locked up somewhere worse than he ran away from. what great help we've given him.

lsmith
105
Points
lsmith 05/16/10 - 10:20 am
0
0
First blame is on parents of
Unpublished

First blame is on parents of course for failing to properly supervise and provide a nurturing environment for their upbringing. Probably got a "baby's daddy" running around from one brood to the other with no cares.
It goes without saying that there is an implicit expectation that a child or even an adult for that matter that has their freedom taken away and committed to state/federal custody should expect they would not be subject to assault. Of course we all know the horror stories of "prison Love", willing participant or not. No excuse for it. If the Government is not capable of keeping inmates safe from bodily harm, then they have no right to lock them up. Problem is the government really could care less, and probably look at it as the price you pay for being bad.
Further insult is the increasing use of private contractors to manage prisons and other correction operations such as probation. This is just wrong.........this should not be a profitable business for anyone.
As for the boys responsible for this particular assault, this is just the beginning of their future. You can be sure looking at the rap sheets they will someday see time in the "big house" and probably lots of it.
Sad

Brad Owens
5223
Points
Brad Owens 05/16/10 - 10:33 am
0
0
"I think I should be able to

"I think I should be able to go home." Sounds like the kid has a plan and a goal here.

I guess he would be better off with his methhead 'family' since the results seems to be so good so far. Maybe he can share a cell with his father after the next crime he commits.

The attorneys smell a cash settlement otherwise they would not be so concerned.

I noticed McDevitt put NO blame on the criminal methhead parents for their kid being in this situation. I guess there is no money in suing parents for not being accountable.

Here is an idea, put IR cameras in the droms with motion detectors.

I feel sorry for the punk but I make no excuse for his behavior other than he had methhead parents.

Brad

Brad Owens
5223
Points
Brad Owens 05/16/10 - 10:47 am
0
0
Mary, I think he was in

Mary, I think he was in trouble long before his skipping school and smoking a joint or two.

His PARENTS are to blame, not the officials at this facility. Also, I doubt he was getting proper medical care or therapy before he came there.

Now, I do not agree about locking up kids, but kids whose parents are in prison, who use illegal drugs, refuse to attend school, and who refuse to stay with relatives must be dealt with by the State or we will pay the price.

I would rather him be disciplined by the State than run amock to harm others.

Brad

just ask me
0
Points
just ask me 05/16/10 - 12:17 pm
0
0
I agree with you totally

I agree with you totally Brad! Some children are a menace to society and they grow up causing pain to others who try to do something with their lives...for example gang activity, a number of home break-ins, robberies & killings in the community - Come on parents...wake up! Do not expect these facilities or the state to take the children that you bear to raise them & expect them to change into little angles overnight. His parents are methheads seeking money for more meth! To this young man's parents: Where were you when your child was getting in trouble or getting high? Probably getting in trouble & getting high with him.

reader54
603
Points
reader54 05/16/10 - 12:33 pm
0
0
When the State takes custody

When the State takes custody of a minor they also have to take responsibility for his safety. If this would have happened in a foster home, the foster parents would be responsible. If this had occurred in anyone of your homes, you would be held responsible. It's not the kid's fault that he was raised in a dysfunctional family. As for counseling, he should be receiving it in custody unless you would prefer that he not get help and grow into another $40,000 a year adult inmate. You can spend a little now or a whole lot more later. A little empathy for the kid would be in order.

lsmith
105
Points
lsmith 05/16/10 - 12:42 pm
0
0
I think too much inmate
Unpublished

I think too much inmate interaction is allowed in all prison facilities. I offer no excuses for whatever behavior landed this "child" in the facility he's in, however it would appear to me that if we turn a blind eye to the environment the child or adult for that matter is subjected to while incarcerated, we only make better criminals out of them. They just learn to get more vicious. They become numbed, brain washed or whatever you want to call it. I don't think you'll get any argument on this point from even prison officials. Since We....the public have to in turn enteract with these people once they're back on the streets, it only seems logical that we truly try to provide an enviroment inside these faciltities that doesn't make them worse, regardless of how we personally feel about the crime and punishment.
There is no doubt in my mind that once these boys get back on the street (and they will sooner rather than later) my family will be at greater risk because of the "education' they received at Penitentiary University. No easy answers here, but common sense needs to prevail in the end, not so much for the benefit of the prisoners, but for US.......

lsmith
105
Points
lsmith 05/16/10 - 01:12 pm
0
0
Seems to me they certainly
Unpublished

Seems to me they certainly should have enough money in their budget to get those cameras fixed.

AutumnLeaves
11552
Points
AutumnLeaves 05/16/10 - 12:59 pm
0
0
I'm with reader54 on this

I'm with reader54 on this one.

fishman960
1518
Points
fishman960 05/16/10 - 02:07 pm
0
0
Rob Rosenbloom states above,

Rob Rosenbloom states above, "these things happen". Some posters state, "that's prison life for you". Well, let me tell you, if that happened to me, I don't care where I am at the time, there would have been four 'suicides' by any means available. Nobody, and I MEAN NOBODY, has the right to violate my body for ANY reason. PERIOD.

disssman
6
Points
disssman 05/16/10 - 02:07 pm
0
0
Oh well another facility run

Oh well another facility run by a non-profit. Don't you just love these companys that are in business to "not make a profit"? Also I find it hilarious that these poor 5'10" 207 pound teen is placed in the same facility as someone weighing 125 pounds. BTW why wern't these bums charged with a "hate crime"? I hope the victim sues and collects millions.

corgimom
48033
Points
corgimom 05/16/10 - 02:47 pm
0
0
When a child runs away, they

When a child runs away, they are put into detention.

Because let me tell you, life on the streets is even more dangerous for them.

Again- the two people responsible for this are his so-called parents.

Most of the runaways, most of the kids in foster care, most of the kids in detention centers will experience some form of sexual abuse.

And that is the sad truth.

corgimom
48033
Points
corgimom 05/16/10 - 02:50 pm
0
0
"According to his mother, he

"According to his mother, he was in the custody of the Department of Family and Children Services and Juvenile Justice for running away, truancy and failing drug tests."

And that's what she is willing to admit to.

So, let's see, you have a teenager who is running away, not going to school, using drugs, living on the streets, whose parents are in prison, and reader54, your solution is to do- what with him?

fishman960
1518
Points
fishman960 05/16/10 - 02:56 pm
0
0
Corgi, I have found myself

Corgi, I have found myself agreeing more and more on your posts. In this instance I have to ask you (and everyone else that wants to opine), now that we have determined where this youth went wrong and properly chastised the parental unit for it's faults, just how do we help this person to become a productive member of society? Pointing fingers and assuming his future is not sufficient. This is a lost soul. Who will lead the way to find him? Or do we exile him and all the other offenders to a third world island to fight out his living days? These people need guidance and a lot of it. All we want to do is assign fault. That is THE REAL sad truth.

fishman960
1518
Points
fishman960 05/16/10 - 03:00 pm
0
0
Folks, I was one of those

Folks, I was one of those lost souls. If not for the compassion of complete strangers, I would probably be some sort of 'lifer'. You never know what life is going to throw at you.

corgimom
48033
Points
corgimom 05/16/10 - 04:43 pm
0
0
Fishman, no one can help him

Fishman, no one can help him until he wants help.

just ask me
0
Points
just ask me 05/16/10 - 05:00 pm
0
0
I agree corgimom! Dissman-why

I agree corgimom!

Dissman-why should the victim sue? If he wins, he and his parents will only smoke it up or shoot it in their veins. Wow- That's totally great thinking dissman!

fishman960
1518
Points
fishman960 05/16/10 - 05:30 pm
0
0
Durn it, Corgi. There you go

Durn it, Corgi. There you go again making a post that I can't disagree with! Now stop that!

disssman
6
Points
disssman 05/16/10 - 06:39 pm
0
0
just ask me. What would you

just ask me. What would you do, blow it on some expensive golf clubs or in some overrated restaurant? I don't care what the family does as long as the company responsible is held accountable for a heinous crime and failure to protect a child.

reader54
603
Points
reader54 05/16/10 - 09:56 pm
0
0
Corgi: The situation here is

Corgi: The situation here is not why the kid is in detention! The question is whether a kid that is committed to an institution, for the sake of helping him get his life together, should be afforded a reasonably safe environment. The "shift reliever" was made aware by his predecessor that something evil was amidst but this was obviously ignored. You act as though the boy was Charles Manson. What has the kid done to deserve being sodomized with a toilet plunger? Do you have children or just a dog? I had best end my input. Unbelievably callous and cold. Would you talk so tough if it was one of your own? Did he deserve it? Do you give up on a 16 yr. old? Sheesh

just ask me
0
Points
just ask me 05/16/10 - 10:28 pm
0
0
No Dissman- I wouldn't blow

No Dissman- I wouldn't blow it on a restaurant or golf clubs...So who is going to be held responsible for the crimes that got him there or any other future crimes he is going to commit. With the route he is going and his money hungry parents, he will commit another crime making it difficult for the hardworking and tax paying citizens to live a honest life. Once he does commit another crime- u would be one of the 1st to complain.

Unlike yourself - You are probably like the victim's parents...Careless and Unconcerned about the child's welfare...Your great thinking makes me believe that you are all about suing & making money wherever possible and by any means necessary - mainly at the expense of your own children.

So I guess your solution is to sue and get money at every facility this child will be in...Please believe, this will not be his last institution for the victim - Again with your parental thinking, he will be your children cell mate in about 3-4 years. And if so, he and your kids will receive lots of "cell loving"! :) And if this "loving" does happen, will you sue the State? I can see now, you will have lots of lawsuits.

mable8
4
Points
mable8 05/17/10 - 06:51 am
0
0
In the first place, West Care

In the first place, West Care should not be doing its own investigation; GBI should be investigating. In the second place, get rid of the contracting out services and put all penal institutions back under DOC. It has been proven over and over that these type of incidents, staff brutality charges, and escapes occur more frequently than those institutions operated by the respective State DOC agencies. These private agencies are profiteering groups and have little to no respect for the public they serve. I don't care what a person may have done to be in a prison, there is absolutely no need to treat them inhumanely.

veggie-d
0
Points
veggie-d 05/17/10 - 06:51 am
0
0
most adults working in

most adults working in juvenile institutions are only there for a paycheck.

corgimom
48033
Points
corgimom 05/17/10 - 07:13 am
0
0
Callous and cold? No.

Callous and cold? No. Realist? Yes. He was not in there to "get his life together"; he was incarcerated, and prisons are bad places to be. Nice kids don't go there.

That is a fact of life. It is a prison, just like all prisons, and terrible things happen there. Those kids are locked up for a reason.

"a privately run drug and alcohol recovery center for incarcerated teens "

You seem to think that he is just an All-American boy that's had bad luck. Not true.

Reader54, if you want to think that YDC is a boarding school for great kids, you go ahead and think that.

reader54
603
Points
reader54 05/17/10 - 08:58 am
0
0
It's a rehab house and not a

It's a rehab house and not a prison. A recovery center is there to help you get your life together. I think that they were negligent and a jury will agree if not settle out of court. We just have a difference of opinion ma'am.

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