I-Team: Detention workers suspended over escape

Posted at 8:17 PM, Feb 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-01 23:52:19-05

The teenage criminals have been on the run for 33 hours and counting.

They got more than an hour and half head start, despite Hillsborough County deputies being stationed just a half a mile away.

The issues involve juvenile detention centers run by private contractor G4S.

The delayed reporting over the weekend is just the latest in a long list of problems at those facilities

Anthony Bays, 18, and Anthony Cook, 17, who are both convicted car thieves, have been on the run since 9:15 a.m. Sunday.

Deputies said they escaped the Falkenburg Academy Youth Detention Center through a hole in a chain link fence, but the first 911 call to report the escape wasn't made until 10:35 p.m., and then, the I-Team has learned, it was a hang-up call.

When a dispatcher called back, nobody answered, so a deputy had to go to the facility in person. That’s when the escape was finally officially reported.

Falkenburg Academy is operated for the state by G4S, which has had a number of recent problems, including a riot at the Avon Park Youth Academy in 2013.

That incident led to 60 arrests, hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, and a grand jury report released last year that called for the facility to be shut down.

“It is a miserable failure down there,” Sheriff Grady Judd said in a June 2015 news conference announcing the release of the grand jury report.

“These things have been years in the making,” State Attorney Jerry Hill said.

Just months after the riot, a convicted felon walked away from the facility while staff members broke up a fight.  Law enforcement said G4S waited hours to report the escape. 

“They can leave, they can walk away, they don't have to be reported to us for two hours,” Judd said.

Last year, juvenile inmates took over the Les Peters Academy in Tampa.

“They were tearing things off the wall, turning over tables, breaking things,” said Tampa Police Department spokeswoman Andrea Davis at the time of the incident.

And in late 2012, a 15-year-old girl escaped from the Pasco Girls Academy but workers there were delayed in calling law enforcement. 

That girl was finally found 11 days later, 60 miles away in Manatee County.

Regarding Sunday’s incident, Florida DJJ spokeswoman Heather DiGiacomo released the following statement:

“The preliminary investigation raises questions as to the adherence to proper procedures. As such, four staff members of the Tampa Residential Facility have since been suspended from duty while the investigation continues. It is our expectation that staff put the safety and wellbeing of youth first and exceed our high expectations for the care of youth in our custody. This includes calling law enforcement immediately when it is suspected that a youth is hurt, in danger or escaped from a program.”

G4S spokeswoman Monica Lewman-Garcia released the following statement regarding the incident:

G4S Youth Services can confirm that on Sunday, January 31st two youth exited Tampa Residential Facility, a residential treatment program for males, ages 14 to 18. While the internal review of the incident is ongoing, our initial investigation raises questions whether proper procedures were followed. Accordingly, four staff members have been suspended from duty while the internal review is underway. 

We want to thank the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office for their response and assistance during this incident. We are working with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice on an immediate corrective action plan. 

G4S Youth Services has provided residential and outpatient treatment programs to more than 12,000 Florida youth since 2002. Although rare, incidents can happen when working with at-risk and troubled youth. When they do we work quickly to ensure that any necessary changes are fully implemented to help prevent a re-occurrence. 

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