PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — A former Department of Juvenile Justice detention officer has been arrested for reportedly having inappropriate sexual contact with juveniles at a juvenile detention facility, according to Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
The investigation began on Jan. 30 after Department of Juvenile Justice staff at the Pinellas Regional Juvenile Detention Facility in Clearwater notified deputies they thought one of their juvenile detention officers was involved in inappropriate conduct with juveniles at the facility.
Detectives say staff at the detention facility initially heard rumors that Joshua Harrison, 27, a juvenile detention officer at the facility was passing notes and bringing food and contraband to juveniles at the facility.
Staff confirmed this information on surveillance video.
Harrison was hired by the Department of Juvenile Justice on May 1, 2018. He was assigned to monitoring the juvenile inmate housing areas during the midnight shift, deputies say.
Detectives learned that due to the nature of Harrison's shift, he should have little to no contact with juvenile inmates.
He was terminated on Feb. 4.
Throughout the course of the investigation, detectives discovered Harrison was "grooming" some of the inmates by offering them gifts and developing a relationship with them so it would lead to a sexual encounter.
Detectives identified three 17-year-old male juvenile victims.
He performed sex acts on multiple victims, and the third one reportedly tried to punch Harrison.
Detectives say at least five other inmates reported that Harrison asked them for sex acts, and he bribed them with food or drinks to expose themselves. He allowed inmates to use his cell phone, view pornography on his cell phone and provided them with Xanax, detectives say.
Harrison was arrested and charged with two counts of Sexual Battery (Custodial Authority), one count of Battery, and one count of Introduction of Contraband in a Juvenile Detention Facility.
The Department of Juvenile Justice released the following statement:
“The Department of Juvenile Justice does not tolerate victimization of children in the agency's care, and we expect this individual will be zealously prosecuted for his reprehensible actions. DJJ will ensure the youth involved receive the therapy and other services necessary to address the trauma they have suffered because of this predator. I also have directed my staff to explore screening tools to help us reduce the likelihood of anything like this happening again.”