Originally created 09/15/03

YDC inquiries remain active



Two state investigations that could shed light on how and why the Augusta YDC was privatized remain pending months later than expected.

One involves the Augusta Youth Development Campus' ousted state workers, who were accused of selling drugs, cigarettes and pornography to boys in state custody and ignoring assaults in exchange for money.

The other involves a teenager's treatment while in the care of Unique Solutions, the mental health care provider that now operates the campus under a six-month, $5.5 million contract.

In June, the Richmond County Department of Family and Children Services received a complaint that Charles Justin Duke, then 17, was being kept in an isolation cell, forbidden to shower and being made to bathe with a bucket and a sponge. Allegations also were made that he ate glass, defecated in his room, ate his waste, then was told he couldn't come out of the room until he cleaned up the mess.

Under state Department of Human Resources policy, DFCS has 30 days to complete an investigation. The case was turned over to the statewide Division of Family and Children Services' Special Investigations Unit, however. State Investigator Teresa Amendola said she received a waiver to extend the 30-day time frame.

The investigator said she is still waiting for some information from the Department of Juvenile Justice needed to complete her work.

The teen's mother, Judy Barnes, of Poulan, Ga., said a Richmond County DFCS investigator told her the county office substantiated child neglect before turning the case over to the state. That could not be verified because officials from local and state DFCS would not discuss details of the case.

The teen, who goes by Justin, is serving a five-year sentence for taking his mother's car without permission and leading police on a chase. He was moved to Central State Hospital in Milledgeville after the DFCS investigation began.

Justin is now at Southwestern State Hospital in Thomasville. Mrs. Barnes said he has improved considerably since being taken off the medications he was given in Augusta, where he repeatedly cut his arms and neck and said he heard voices telling him to hurt himself.

"He is scarred up for the rest of his life," Mrs. Barnes said. "I'm his mother, but I have to say if I were sitting across from him interviewing him for a job, I wouldn't hire him."

Several messages seeking comment were left last week for Unique Solutions' chief executive officer, Brett Brannon, who returned the calls and left messages. When reached Saturday, Mr. Brannon said he was watching a football game and would speak to the newspaper today.

Jaci Vickers, a Juvenile Justice spokeswoman, said that her department's investigation is still pending and that she is not aware of any finding by Richmond County DFCS.

Ms. Amendola said that the completed investigation will not be made public but that Mrs. Barnes will receive a letter telling her whether maltreatment was substantiated. Under Georgia law, the public can learn the outcome of a DFCS investigation only when a child is dead. The investigation will be turned over to Juvenile Justice, which will decide what action, if any, should be taken.

Two months have passed since the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced that indictments would not be pursued in the investigation of state workers at the YDC, yet the investigation remains officially open and therefore closed to the public.

On July 9, the GBI released a synopsis of the case, which said "that the investigation should be terminated." Thomson office GBI Agent Mike Seigler says he is waiting for the attorney general's office to close the case.

Russ Willard, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said, "This office and the GBI still have an open, active investigation." Asked to define "active," he said, "The comment speaks for itself."

Former Juvenile Justice Commissioner Orlando Martinez used the GBI investigation to justify privatizing the campus in July. When state Sens. Don Cheeks and Randy Hall learned that indictments would not be pursued, they said they felt misled and asked Gov. Sonny Perdue to fire the commissioner.

The governor did so Aug. 13.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.