Election commissioner, state rep among shareholders of center - WSMV News 4

Election commissioner, state representative among shareholders of private juvenile detention center

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Middle Tennessee Juvenile Detention Center in Columbia. (WSMV) Middle Tennessee Juvenile Detention Center in Columbia. (WSMV)

Bankers, a real estate agent and an elected state representative are just some of the individuals who stand to profit from a juvenile detention center mired in controversy.

Last year the News 4 I-Team uncovered allegations about this facility raised by parents and former employees ranging from improper treatment to the quality of medical care.

PREVIOUSLY REPORTED: Former workers raise questions about medical attention at private juvenile facility | Director of private juvenile facility denies allegations of improper treatment

Such accusations were detailed in 911 calls, redacted medical records and police reports.

The Middle Tennessee Juvenile Detention Center in Columbia is a private facility that holds teens who have been accused of delinquent offenses ranging from theft to rape.

The center also contracts with the Tennessee 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.

As part of an open records request, the facility released a document last month that reveals its shareholders.

Its 11 shareholders include a doctor, a real estate agent, the Wayne County Bank, as well as two public officials: Wayne County Election Commissioner and former state representative Gene Davidson and state Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro).

“As an elected representative, you have a responsibility to find out what has occurred here,” said Dwight Green, the chairman of the group, Statewide Organizing for Community Empowerment in Maury County.

Green says any public official linked to the facility should investigate allegations uncovered by the I-Team.

Political science expert Carrie Russell agrees.

"I think it's incumbent on public officials to take their responsibility for the safety, health and welfare of our community citizens seriously,” said Russell, a professor at Vanderbilt University.

Redacted medical records from a former employee also raised questions about the type of care teens received.

Karissa Taylor said when her son attempted suicide at the facility, she had to call 911 to request an ambulance.

“It was very scary not knowing what he was thinking, what he may be doing, if I’d ever see him again,” Taylor told the I-Team in 2017.

The I-Team also obtained 911 calls addressing other allegations.

“Kid saying that one of the staff members rubbed his penis against this boy’s butt,” a DCS investigator can be heard saying during a 911 call.

The I-Team requested interviews with Rep. David Byrd, who was unavailable.

In several e-mails, Byrd emphasized he’s owned just 2.6 percent of the company since 2000. Byrd also disclosed his financial interest in state ethics documents.

Byrd released the following statement via e-mail: 

“As an educator for over 30 years, I believe it is always important to look into allegations of misconduct, especially when it involves our children. In this specific situation, the Tennessee Department of Children's Services conducted an investigation and found absolutely no wrongdoing by facility staff. In addition, the Director has no criminal charges against him and has been cleared completely by a background check.

Unfortunately in today's society, former disgruntled employees feel empowered to spread false narratives because they know they can get attention by making outrageous claims. This is the world we live in today and it is certainly an unfortunate reality that we must all deal with.

Many of the youths brought to this facility are from Memphis and other high crime areas with gang-affiliated backgrounds. While the majority of those in the program are able to be successfully rehabilitated and go on to live productive lives, these violent backgrounds sometimes naturally lead to events where facility staff members are placed in life or death situations and must take appropriate actions to protect those around them.

As a visitor to this facility on numerous occasions where I check in with teachers and other key staff, I have full confidence in these professionals to do their job and to do it right. Instead of being harassed by unsubstantiated claims, we should be commending them for the hard work they put in every single day for the betterment of all Tennesseans.”

The I-Team also contacted Wayne Co. Election Commissioner Gene Davidson, who owns roughly 13 percent.

We asked Davidson whether he was concerned by these allegations.

“The children they’re handling up there are not Sunday school children,” Davidson said in a phone interview. “Their parents have not taught them anything.”

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

Chief Manager Jason Crews did not return a request for comment.

In a previous statement, Director Tom Irwin attributed the accusations to disgruntled former employees.

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