Lawsuit: Mistreatment Of 14-Year-Old In Juvenile Detention Caused Him To Hang Himself

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ATLANTA (AP) — A teenager was mistreated and kept in deplorable conditions at a juvenile detention center in Atlanta, which ultimately led him to hang himself in his cell, his parents said in a federal civil rights lawsuit.

Denise Butler and Jimmy Davidson, the parents of the teen identified only as J.D., filed the lawsuit Dec. 7. They are suing Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Avery Niles and 16 other department employees, including detention center staff.

Department of Juvenile Justice spokesman Jim Shuler said in an email that the department doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation. Nicholas Genesi, a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office, said the office had no comment on the allegations against the state employees.

“Defendants’ actions, omissions, and deliberate indifference to violations of clearly established constitutional rights caused J.D. to suffer physical, mental, and emotional injuries, and ultimately death,” the lawsuit says.

Detention center staff routinely locked the 14-year-old in solitary confinement and didn’t allow him the required amount of exercise, education or showers, the lawsuit says. When J.D. began to resist confinement, officers slammed his hand into the cell doors, causing severe injuries, the lawsuit says.

He was labeled a “Level 2” suicide risk during intake in February, which requires direct observation and documentation of his behavior at least every 15 minutes, the lawsuit says. He tried to kill himself four times and threatened suicide one other time between March 10 and April 5, when he hanged himself in his cell using his jumpsuit, the lawsuit says.

He was supposed to have been released from solitary confinement by the morning of April 5 and told other detainees and Juvenile Correction Officer Adrian Cooper around 11 a.m. that he planned to kill himself, the lawsuit says.

Cooper did not intervene when he learned J.D. was tying his jumpsuit into a noose or when J.D. tied the jumpsuit around his neck and climbed on the sink, the lawsuit says.

“Children in neighboring rooms are screaming that J.D. is hanging himself,” the lawsuit says.

When he learned J.D. was hanging from the ceiling, Cooper didn’t try to save him, instead waiting 20 minutes before going to the teen’s cell, the lawsuit says.

Reached by phone Thursday, Cooper said he wasn’t interested in commenting.

An internal investigation by the Department of Juvenile Justice was completed May 18 and found that Cooper committed child neglect by failing to intervene. He and a dozen others also committed employee misconduct, according to the investigative report, which was filed along with the lawsuit. Cooper and a nurse were fired, and two other detention center employees were demoted as a result of the teen’s death, the lawsuit says.

Cooper told investigators he wasn’t able to do routine cell checks or check on J.D. because he was the only officer on the unit and couldn’t leave a group of detainees he was supervising in another room.

The Department of Juvenile Justice has failed to ensure adequate staffing at many of its detention centers, which means that the young people housed in those facilities don’t get adequate supervision or services, the lawsuit says.

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