At a news conference Wednesday evening, Shuler also said that a Nov. 4 fight among five youths went unreported to the department’s central office for some time. A 17-year-old’s jaw was broken during the assault, but he was not transferred to a hospital for several days.
Interim Director Melvin Womble was suspended with pay because of a pending Juvenile Justice investigation at the facility, but no details on that investigation are being released at this time, Shuler said.
YDC Corrections Lt. Ricky Smiley was terminated for employee negligence in connection with a Dec. 2 assault between two youths that sent a 15-year-old to the hospital with “cuts and bruises.” He was released later that week.
Juvenile Justice Commissioner Avery D. Niles, who was appointed in November, described the dismissal as the first of several actions and personnel changes that can be expected under his watch, according to a news release.
Niles said that corrections staffers on duty the night of the fight acted properly but that a later investigation into the circumstances behind the assault revealed security violations caused by Smiley’s failure to follow up on his responsibilities as lieutenant.
“This performance failure may have hindered the ability of other key staff members to prevent the assault and subsequent injury,” Niles said.
The disciplinary actions are the latest developments in more than a year of turmoil at the facility, including the beating death of a resident in 2011 and the escape of five detainees Oct. 19.
On Oct. 26, Smiley was placed on a one-day disciplinary suspension and demoted from captain to lieutenant.
Womble, who was the assistant director at the time of the escape, was also given a one-day disciplinary action before taking over as interim director Oct. 31 when then-Director Ronald Brawner submitted his resignation.
Shuler said Juvenile Justice learned about the Nov. 4 fight only after investigators arrived at the Augusta YDC to investigate the Dec. 2 assault.
The situation prompted Niles to call in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for assistance in looking into security issues at the facility.
“Whether it was an unavoidable clerical error or sloppy oversight, it’s another example of the unacceptable level of safety and security deficiencies the public has come to associate with the management of the Augusta (YDC),” Niles said.
Juvenile Justice has taken out aggravated assault charges on three of the YDC residents involved in the Nov. 4 attack, and a fourth youth has been charged as a juvenile.
Shuler said a jaw injury was not evident during the initial medical examinations of the 17-year-old by the YDC staff, but when his symptoms did not improve for several days he was referred to a hospital, where his jaw was wired shut.
When investigators learned about the unreported incident, DJJ locked down the campus and ordered precautionary measures, including formation of a security management response team.
In Womble’s absence, Shuler said, Juvenile Justice is implementing a “stabilization plan” that involves key department employees, including a regional administrator.
Niles is expected to announce a new director for YDC before the end of the month.
“Progress is being made on several fronts here,” Shuler said.