“I have cautioned (juvenile justice) staff in Augusta and throughout the state that I will continue to seek out safety and security laxes and continue to crack down on violators anywhere they’re found,” Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Avery Niles said in a statement Friday. “More violations will mean more dismissals.”
Niles announced the firing of Sgt. Dorothy Blair and juvenile corrections Officer Dominique Harris as part of an ongoing investigation into the escape of five inmates from the troubled Augusta Youth Development Campus in October. The two had previously been suspended with pay and placed on administrative leave.
The facility’s interim director, Melvin Womble, was suspended with pay Wednesday pending an investigation. Womble’s suspension came just six weeks after he took over upon the resignation of the facility’s former director, Ronald Brawner, on Oct. 31.
Niles declined to release further details about Womble’s suspension, citing ongoing internal and criminal investigations.
Also Wednesday, corrections Lt. Rickey Smiley was fired in connection with a Dec. 2 fight between two youths that sent a 15-year-old to a hospital for several days, department officials said.
Niles on Thursday announced that he had fired the principal of the school at the detention center, Brenda James-Ford, because she failed when she was hired in July to report a letter of reprimand she had received for allegations of grade changing at another school district. Niles says the ethics investigation into those allegations, begun in May by the Professional Standards Commission, is still pending.
Calls to a phone number listed for Womble repeatedly encountered a busy signal, and phone numbers for James-Ford, Blair and Smiley could not immediately be located. When reached by phone Friday, Harris declined to comment.
The Augusta Youth Development Campus has had a string of high-profile problems in recent years, including the death of an inmate there in November 2011 after a beating by another inmate. Investigations into that death led to the dismissal or resignations of 11 people, including the director at the time of the incident.
Niles has said he plans to appoint a new facility director this month.
Harris’ firing is the result of his failure to properly supervise and maintain control of youth in his care, which contributed to the escape of five inmates on Oct. 19, Niles said in a statement Friday. Blair was dismissed because she failed to properly conduct a perimeter check that day and provided false information during an internal investigation into the escape, he said.
A November disturbance at the facility resulted in a 17-year-old’s jaw being broken, but the attack went unreported to the state agency’s central office for several days, Niles said. A medical evaluation revealed the teen had a jaw fracture that had to be wired shut.
“That medical report never made it to my office and no one picked up the phone from the Augusta YDC to inform me or my investigators about the injury,” Niles said in a statement.
Authorities launched an internal investigation of the December fight that injured the 15-year-old and found that safety and security policies were violated.
The night of that assault, Niles asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to conduct an on-site criminal investigation. A few days later, Niles asked that the same team of GBI investigators be assigned to look into any criminal activity they may uncover during their interrogations at the Augusta facility, juvenile justice officials said, adding that the request was part of the department’s “ongoing pursuit of justice and agency transparency in Augusta.”
The joint juvenile justice and GBI investigation was expected to continue at the Augusta facility for several weeks.
Juvenile justice officials said they would recommend that felony charges be filed against the youth who injured the 15-year-old in the Dec. 2 assault. Both youths involved were being moved to separate juvenile justice detention facilities.
Associated Press writer Phillip Lucas in Atlanta contributed to this report.