DJJ secretary tours site of Avon Park youth riot - WFLA News Channel 8

DJJ secretary tours site of Avon Park youth riot

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Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters  meets with reporters. Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters meets with reporters.

Cleanup and repairs were well underway Tuesday when the head of Florida's juvenile justice department toured the facility where a riot broke out over the weekend.

"I have to tell you, it's not what I expected to find so I'm very grateful and relieved for that," said Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters as she walked through the Avon Park Youth Academy campus.

Initial reports from law enforcement were that buildings were "destroyed," but much of the damage turned out to be from broken windows, and other vandalism included smearing fake blood. The medical building was one of those targeted.

"Everything was completely in shambles," said Jim Hill, president of G4S, the contractor that runs operations at the site, as he stood in the medical center where cleaning and repair supplies cluttered the ground.

After the incident, G4S is expected to add more staff at the facility, a DJJ spokeswoman said.

The site is also expected to get security cameras. DJJ has already been putting them in at facilities across the state but hadn't gotten to the Avon Park site, and that plan may be expedited now, Walters said.

Walters said her office is working to build a timeline of what happened. She raised questions at a news conference about why staff members left or were removed by law enforcement from the facility, leaving the teenage residents unsupervised.

"It is not the practice in juvenile justice to leave juveniles unsupervised, and that is what happened here for two to three hours," she said.  

A spokeswoman with the Polk County Sheriff's Office said most of the staff were already out by the time deputies arrived, and deputies got the last ones out to make sure they weren't injured.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd has said the staff were "overwhelmed" and "overpowered" during the riot in part because they did not have tools such as pepper spray to break up the fight.

The sheriff's office Tuesday announced the first charges in connection with the incident, charging 17-year-old Charles Kenneth Smith with four felony charges.

Smith is charged with rioting, burglary, grand theft and introduction of contraband into a detention facility.

Authorities say during the riot, he had a staff radio and went into the medical building and took prescription medication. That medication was later found in his dorm room, according to an affidavit.

Smith said he found the radio on the ground and used it to talk to a staff member, and denied involvement in the medication theft, the affidavit said.

DJJ spokeswoman Meghan Collins said 32 people are expected to face charges in connection with Saturday night's incident, though that number may rise.

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