UPDATED: Another Teenager Beaten at Thompson Academy
|Youth Services International|
|A photo from a morale-boosting event at Thompson.|
Regla Cazañas holds up a picture of her 17-year-old son's swollen face. His pale skin is marred by wine-colored bruises and covered with an oxygen mask.
On January 1, he was beaten unconscious by fellow teenagers at the Thompson Academy juvenile detention center in Pembroke Pines. Six days later, he remained in the hospital, with five metal plates in his face.
He couldn't talk or open his mouth properly. "My son almost died," Cazañas says, holding back tears. "I don't want another kid to get hurt."
On January 7, Cazañas joined a group of other mothers of Thompson residents to publicly beg state legislators to cancel the $14.8 million contract that keeps the facility open. Youth Services International, a private, for-profit company based in Sarasota, runs the all-male, "moderate risk" detention center.
"The youth at the facility are being abused," Isis Snow, whose son was recently released from Thompson, told the lawmakers. "We don't feel the state's dollars are being used properly."
Snow's son is one of five plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit alleging that Thompson is a violent, terrifying place where children are undernourished and mistreated by staffers. One 15-year-old says he was twice sexually assaulted by a male counselor. Another 16-year-old alleges a counselor choked him, dragged him down the hall, and slammed his head against a metal door. The state Department of Children and Families (DCF) has declared both teenagers' allegations of abuse unfounded.
Cazañas, who is not a plaintiff in the suit, says staff members provided her some information about what happened to her son, but the details are sketchy. She knows there was an argument, and someone hit the boy so hard that he smashed his face on a pole. He fell to the ground, helpless, and two other kids joined in to kick and beat him. Staff members told her they couldn't stop the violence.
"They claim that it all happened so fast that they couldn't prevent it," Cazañas says. "How can this have happened?"
UPDATE: A Pembroke Pines police report, written without interviewing Cazañas or her son, gives a markedly different version of events.
According to the report, Thompson inmates were playing touch football on the morning of January 1. Cazañas' son tackled another boy to the ground, violating the rules of this less-violent version of the game. The five staffers outside supervising the kids declared the game was over, and had the inmates line up to go inside.
That's when another boy walked up and slugged Cazañas' son in the face. The teenager told police he was tired of Cazañas' son's "constant bullying," and "it really bothered him" when the 17-year-old tackled the smaller boy.
When he fell, Cazañas' son struck his chin on a concrete deck. He was treated for a small cut above his left eye at the Thompson clinic. The report makes no mention of him being unconscious.
Three hours later, at 1:30 p.m.,Cazañas' son complained that his jaw hurt, the report says. He was taken to Memorial Regional Hospital, where he underwent surgery for a fractured jaw.
The report fails to mention the five metal plates needed to repair his face, or the dozen screws used to hold his jaw together. Nor does the report blame Thompson officials for the fight. It says "a lack of supervision does not appear to be a factor" in the incident. DCF officials corroborated the police report, closing the case with "no indicators of inadequate supervision."
Craig Ferguson, Thompson's administrator, has not responded to New Times' request for comment.