An evaluation report on the Augusta Youth Development Campus shows the facility failed to follow protocol in numerous areas, including not having a planner to oversee all emergency responses or a cooperative agreement with local law enforcement.
The evaluation was done Aug. 28-30, nearly two months before five youths escaped from the facility. After the escape, it took staff members at least an hour and 20 minutes to begin an outside search for the escapees or to inform outside agencies.
The 87-page report was released to the media through an opens records request.
Commissioner Avery Niles acknowledged in an e-mail that the Department of Juvenile Justice failed to protect the community when the five youths escaped, stole a car and led officers on a chase Oct. 19. It was two days before all were back in custody.
“But after all the investigations DJJ has conducted at Augusta YDC – and after all the personnel changes and security compliance this agency has invested there – this performance audit is unacceptable and we need to change things,” he said.
Protocol calls for the YDC to have a facility emergency planner to oversee all emergency planning activities. However, the facility doesn’t have a primary or alternate planner, and no one is specified to handle the duties.
Additionally, the YDC doesn’t have a cooperative agreement with local agencies, such as the sheriff’s office, fire department and the local EMS. The report also states that monthly emergency drills are not being conducted.
Other deficiencies found include:
• Control of the movements of the youths was “without structure, unorganized and disorderly.”
• Some youths were not photographed during admission as required.
• The grievance officer reported that he has not received any training on the grievance process or the performance of his duties.
The recent problems at the YDC came to light a year ago, when Jade Holder, 19, died in his cell. Michael Everidge, now 18, was sentenced to 17 years in prison.
An investigation revealed that the doors to Holder’s cell had been left unlocked for the fight. After Holder hit his head on the concrete floor, it took 20 minutes for the only guard in the area, Marlon McCreary, to round up the youths into their cells before calling for assistance.
During the investigation, 11 employees resigned, were fired or demoted, including McCreary and John Brady, the center’s director.
The investigation conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and other agencies revealed abuse, sexual misconduct and smuggling of drugs into the facility by guards. One year later, the investigation continues.
After Holder’s death, Gale Buckner was brought in as the commissioner. Buckner conducted surprise visits to the facility and brought in staff to replace those lost during the investigation.
Before her retirement in October, Buckner announced a new facility director in Ronald Brawner. However, Brawner resigned from the position after the escape Oct. 19, the same day Everidge was sentenced for Holder’s death.
Six employees, including Brawner and the newly hired assistant director, Melvin Womble, were disciplined and security measures were ordered after the escape. Brawner and Womble were placed on one-day disciplinary suspension to give them the opportunity to decide whether to seek other employment. Brawner resigned, and Womble became acting director.
Niles said that the department is making new staffing arrangements and that the vacant director position should be filled around mid-December.
Other changes since the escape include added perimeter safety and stadium lighting for the 456-acre campus.
“Safety and security and a professional, ethical staff remain a major goal for Augusta YDC,” Niles said. “There is no room for compromise when safety and security violations at one of our facilities threaten the security of our staff and our residents or endanger the safety of the community.”