Director of private juvenile facility denies allegations of impr - WSMV News 4

Director of private juvenile facility denies allegations of improper treatment

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The Middle Tennessee Juvenile Detention Center in Columbia detains teens who have been accused of delinquent offenses. (WSMV) The Middle Tennessee Juvenile Detention Center in Columbia detains teens who have been accused of delinquent offenses. (WSMV)

Former workers said teens sent to a Midstate juvenile detention facility should have never endured the treatment that’s alleged in police reports, 911 calls and redacted medical records obtained by the Channel 4 I-Team.

But the director of the Middle Tennessee Juvenile Detention Center in Columbia vehemently denies all allegations regarding the children in his care.

The private facility holds teens who have been accused of delinquent offenses ranging from theft to rape.

The center also contracts with the Department of Children Services. Many, but not all, of the teens at the facility are in state custody.

The Middle Tennessee Juvenile Detention Center is one of three privately-owned juvenile detention facilities in Tennessee.

Phone calls obtained by the I-Team show that some teens have reached out for help while being detained.

“Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?” said a dispatcher on one call.

“I would like to report I have been abused,” a teen replied.

In another 911 call, a teen told the dispatcher, “I would like to press criminal charges against some of the staff members because I think they did, without any reason or cause, stick their fingers and groped my behind.”

Even a DCS investigator can be heard making a 911 call from the facility.

“Kid saying that one of the staff members rubbed his penis against this boy’s butt,” said Richard Ley, an investigator with DCS.

The I-Team requested all 911 calls involving MTJDC since 2015.

Out of 35 calls, six dealt with allegations of abuse or assault. On three occasions, teens accused the very staff members paid to protect them.

It’s not only kids making complaints.

“Our community is going to be less safe because we have failed these children,” said Chandler Anderson, a nurse practitioner who owns the Right Care walk-in clinic in Columbia.

Until last year, Anderson’s staff provided on-site medical services for the facility.

Anderson said he witnessed a pattern: teens getting hurt after being restrained by staff members.

“It should never happen,” he said. “Never.”

At the facility, staff are permitted to use force against juveniles in three ways: physically, mechanically or chemically.

Anderson provided the I-Team with dozens of redacted medical records dating back to 2015.

They show on 10 occasions, use-of-force incidents resulted in teens needing medical attention.

Records suggested in two incidents residents suffered fractures.

A teen reported blood-tinged mucus after someone else was sprayed with mace nearby.

Other restraints reportedly ended in a head injury, a pop of the knee, and blurred vision.

“We still need to treat these kids with some kind of respect,” said a former supervisor.

The former supervisor, who recently quit, asked we protect her identity.

She said staffers were taught how to restrain teens without hurting them but few guards followed the training.

“Once you walk out of that class, it’s never seen again,” she said. “You restrain them any way you can.”

Since 2014, DCS has investigated 44 allegations involving abuse or neglect at MTJDC. Of those, DCS could only substantiate two cases.

State laws governing child confidentiality prevent DCS from disclosing the nature of those cases.

So the I-Team requested all Columbia Police reports dating back to 2012. In almost all cases, investigators concluded the claims were unsubstantiated, including the two 911 calls you heard earlier made by teens.

The exception was a case in March, when a corrections officers was accused of tickling a 15-year-old boy under his belly button. When asked, the officer said he was only joking around. Police marked the case “inactive.”

Director Tom Irwin turned down multiple requests for an on-camera interview.

“We need to ask you some questions,” said reporter Alanna Autler. “Why are several juveniles making these allegations about abuse?”

“I have no comment,” Irwin said.

Chandler Anderson said he ended his relationship with MTJDC after a facility employee gave a teen the wrong dose of lithium, which resulted in a trip to the hospital.

Irwin disputes that explanation. Instead he said the relationship ended because Anderson couldn’t get to work on time.

Irwin did release a statement on behalf of MTJDC:

The safety of the residents at Middle Tennessee Detention Center is our top priority. We have always and will continue to accept residents with severe behavior problems. In this particular instance, the allegations made have been initiated by a former disgruntled employee and former disgruntled medical practitioner. Unfortunately, in this instance, the complete story isn't being presented. All incidents at the center are reported to the appropriate oversight agency when they occur, and investigated if deemed necessary. To this date, the center has been found to be in compliance with all state standards and cleared of any wrongdoing with regards to any allegations made.

The I-Team also requested on-camera interviews with the Department of Children Services. Spokesman Rob Johnson declined and instead provided a statement that reads:

The Middle Tennessee Juvenile Detention Center serves the toughest youth in the state. Many who pass through MTJDC have gang ties. Many face serious criminal charges.

They also tend to be unsettled and fearful about what their futures hold. All youth make mistakes, but we don’t give up on them. 

The complaints you raise are common at any juvenile detention center, and while these issues are nothing to ignore, they come with the work. 

DCS investigators look into every referral that meets the criteria for abuse and neglect. The DCS staff finds that the center is prompt to fix the state's concerns. Also, MTJDC has adopted the rigorous federal standards designed to reduce the risk of sexual assault. The substantiation rate for abuse and neglect has proven to be low.

DCS requires the center to keep its youth safe. That's not all, though: The center must keep its environment safe -- for the workers, teachers, nurses and counselors who serve a challenging population.

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