Staff members who worked at a Muskogee County juvenile facility where a 16-year-old hanged himself in December were mentally abusive and didn’t give juveniles adequate supervision, an investigation by the Department of Human Services has found.
The Department of Human Services Office of Client Advocacy recently issued three final findings against four staff members at the Muskogee County Regional Juvenile Detention Center: one case of mental abuse, and two instances of neglect as a result of lack of supervision, a DHS spokeswoman told The Frontier in an email. One of those employees is appealing an additional finding of neglect by lack of supervision.
Under state laws, Office of Client Advocacy investigative reports are confidential, the spokeswoman said.
The Office of Client Advocacy opened the investigation after Billy Woods, 16, hanged himself on Dec. 15, 2016, at the center, which was operated by the Muskogee County Council on Youth Services.
MCCOYS did not return a call requesting comment on Monday.
The state’s Office of Juvenile Affairs temporarily revoked the center’s license to operate following Woods’ death. MCCOYS contracted with Muskogee County, which contracts with the Office of Juvenile Affairs.
OJA spokeswoman Tierney Tinnin said in a statement the agency is pleased the investigation is completed.
“Following the death, OJA revoked the license for Muskogee County Juvenile Detention meaning the facility was no longer providing detention services,” Tinnin said. “It is our understanding Muskogee County Commissioners have completed a Request for Proposals (RFP) and awarded a contract to a new operator but we have not yet received a request for licensure.
“OJA will continue to work with Muskogee County to ensure the needs of the youth and community are met before moving forward.”
The day before his death, Muskogee police arrested Woods on a warrant that had been issued in Arkansas.
An employee at the juvenile detention center was the last person to see Woods before he died, the employee told police in an incident report.
Around 7:30 p.m., Woods said he was going to take a shower and seemed to be acting normally, the employee said.
The employee went to check on Woods about an hour later and found him under a sink inside his cell, unresponsive, the employee said.
However, the incident report says emergency responders described Woods as being “cold” and his arms and legs were stiff with rigor mortis.
The juvenile center kept a daily log that indicated Woods wasn’t feeling well and wished to stay in his room, the incident report states.
Dan Smolen, an attorney representing Woods’ father along with attorney Caleb Salmon, said the office’s findings are consistent with what he has learned about the facility.
“There were numerous deficiencies identified regarding the housing of juveniles at the MCCOY facility and many of those definitely highlighted a pattern of abuse and neglect,” Smolen said. “Many of those deficiencies centered around an overarching theme of an utter lack of supervision.”
Smolen said the attorneys interviewed juveniles previously housed at the facility who reported excessive lockdowns, employees interrupting juvenile sleeping patterns and threatening language from staff.
In situations where abuse or neglect is confirmed, it is up to the district attorney to review the findings and determine whether criminal charges will be filed.
Orvil Loge, Muskogee County district attorney, was not immediately available for comment Monday afternoon.
The Frontier requested in January the facility’s critical incident reports for the last three years, but state officials denied the request, citing a law allowing the Office of Juvenile Affairs to withhold “agency records.”
The Office of Juvenile System Oversight, which falls under the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, used to complete annual visit reports on MCCOYS. Now, the agency only conducts annual visits on state-ran facilities. The office stopped visiting private facilities in November 2009 when a statute changed and now only performs oversight if a complaint is filed.
MCCOYS operated the regional detention center for 19 years before the Office of Juvenile Affairs temporarily revoked its license on Dec. 22, days after Woods was found dead in his cell.
MCCOYS Executive Director Cindy Perkins gave a 30-day notice to terminate its contract in a March 13 letter to Muskogee County Commissioner Kenny Payne, the Muskogee Phoenix reported. Because the facility has been closed, MCCOYS was unable to pay the occupancy expenses, the letter states.
Muskogee County paid MCCOYS $465,959 each year for 10 beds, according to its contract.