Saturday, April 14, 2007

Head of school for juveniles loses job

DJJ cites 'systematic' problems at institution
By Stephen D. Price

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Walt McNeil on Friday fired the acting superintendent and a juvenile justice officer at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna after an investigation into abuse of a youth.

McNeil said the action was a call for a ''change of culture'' at the school.

''There are systemic operational problems at our Dozier facility that span the chain of command from top to bottom,'' McNeil said.

The incident occurred Feb. 11. Justin Caldwell, an 18-year-old at the school, is charged as an adult with battery in an attack on an officer at Dozier School that day.

Later that day, McNeil said in an unrelated incident, Caldwell accused juvenile justice residential officer Alvin Speights of choking him, causing him to hit his head on a table that knocked him unconscious. That incident was caught on a security camera, but McNeil said the faces of other youth not involved had to be obscured before it could be released to the media.

The tape was given to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and could be released early next week, he said.

Last year, DJJ came under fire for delaying release of footage of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson being beaten by guards at the Bay County juvenile boot camp. After being sued by the media, the department eventually released the tape. Anderson died the day after the incident in Bay County and eight employees of the boot camp have pleaded innocent to charges of aggravated manslaughter of a child.

In the Marianna case, Caldwell has been charged as an adult with battery on staff and is being held in the Jackson County Jail. He had been at Dozier for two years on larceny charges.

Speights was in the process of being fired Friday, and charges against him are pending in the ongoing investigation, McNeil said.

Also, in response to the investigation, John Tallon, regional residential services administrator and acting Dozier superintendent, was fired Thursday.

''It is clear we have to act decisively to change the culture of our Dozier facility,'' McNeil said.

Among changes from the agency's investigation:

Rex Uberman, DJJ assistant secretary of residential services, will temporarily move his office from Tallahassee to the Dozier campus to oversee daily operations.

DJJ hired Community Trust, a Tallahassee-based consulting firm that specializes in juvenile justice facility management, to manage daily operations at Dozier.

Isaac Williams, Community Trust CEO, will temporarily serve as acting superintendent at Dozier.

Staff at Dozier School will be trained to use verbal intervention techniques instead of physical contact on misbehaving youth.

All future management reviews involving Dozier youth or staff will be handled by an investigative staff reporting to Uberman.

''We will not accept abuses of any type of our youth,'' McNeil said.

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