Estate of 16-year-old who died in juvenile facility claim negligence, inhumane treatment led to his death

The recently filed notice is the latest in a string of actions taken against the Muskogee County Council of Youth Services since Billy Woods' death.

Donate
Billy Woods. Courtesy

Staff members at a juvenile facility where a 16-year-old hanged himself last year were negligent, inhumane and indifferent to his needs, the boy’s estate has alleged.

Staff allegedly failed to properly supervise the minor, did not administer first aid and did not call 911 for more than 20 minutes after they found him unresponsive, according to a notice of tort claim filed by his estate. DHS also uncovered evidence staff mistreated other youth at the facility, according to the claim.

On Dec. 15, 2016, Billy Woods, 16, hanged himself at a regional juvenile detention center operated by the Muskogee County Council of Youth Services (MCCOYS).

Woods’ estate sent notice of tort claim on Dec. 4 signaling its intent to sue to MCCOYS, Muskogee County and the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs. Tulsa law firm Smolen Smolen & Roytman represents the estate.

The nine-page claim, obtained by The Frontier through an Open Records Act request, alleges inhumane treatment, gross negligence and deliberate indifference caused Woods’ death.



Tort ClaimWoods (Text)

Muskogee County Commissioner Chairman Kenny Payne said he had not yet seen the claim as of Wednesday. Muskogee County District Attorney Orvil Loge declined to comment.

Assistant Attorney General Rachel Holt declined to comment on behalf of OJA, citing pending litigation. MCCOYS also did not respond to a request for comment.

The recently filed notice is the latest in a string of actions taken against MCCOYS since Woods’ death.

The Department of Human Services Office of Client Advocacy conducted an investigation following the youth’s death and found staff members who worked at the facility were mentally abusive and neglectful because they failed to give proper supervision.

Under Oklahoma law, investigative reports by the DHS Office of Client Advocacy are not considered public record.

The claim from Woods’ estate stated the DHS investigation into the facility uncovered evidence that other residents were mistreated.

According to the claim, the DHS investigation found, “‘an unknown male resident was left unsupervised with access to a shaving razor for approximately four minutes” and “video showed the resident picking up the razor and rubbing his thumb over the blades.”

The OCA investigation also reportedly found facility staff failed to check on other residents for as long as two hours, despite documenting the checks took place every 15 minutes, the claim stated. OCA reportedly found a staff member called another juvenile a “retard.”

“Lastly OCA found that the facility was not equipped with a ‘cut down’ tool for hanging victims or a defibrillator,” the claim stated.

The investigative report was sent to District Attorney Loge earlier this year. Loge said he is still considering whether to file charges in the matter.

State officials refused a request by The Frontier in April for reports detailing critical incidents at the facility, citing a law that allows OJA to withhold “agency records.” Those incidents could include abuse or neglect of a resident, serious acts of violence, or deaths or injuries.

Following Woods’ death, OJA revoked MCCOYS license to operate the juvenile detention center. MCCOYS contracted with Muskogee County, which contracts with the Office of Juvenile Affairs.

The tort claim stated during Woods’ stay at the juvenile detention center, staff members “belittled” and “ridiculed” him. A supervisor allegedly made fun of the way Woods talked and his middle name — Duane — which Woods preferred to be called.

Woods reportedly told a shift supervisor during his initial intake into the juvenile facility that he “had tried to commit suicide ‘a lot,’” and his most recent suicide attempt was a month prior to being placed at the detention center, the claim alleges.

During the intake process, Woods did not sign a “suicide assessment” form, and he was not placed on suicide watch, the claim stated.

Facility staff allegedly did not have the training to properly conduct suicide assessments, according to the claim.

Staff failed to properly monitor Woods from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. the day he died, the claim alleges. Though OJA rules require employees to check on youth every 15 minutes while they are confined to their rooms, Woods allegedly was not checked on for more than two hours.

On a daily log, staff said they checked on Woods every 15 minutes, the claim stated. However, video evidence shows they did not, the claim alleges.

“The Dec. 15 daily notes form was ‘preemptively filled out for the entire 3:00 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift,’” the claim stated.

When a shift supervisor checked on Woods just after 8:30 p.m., he found Woods unconscious and unresponsive. The staff member allegedly did not remove the sheet from Woods’ neck, the claim states.

Instead, he allegedly put the other residents on lock down and instructed another staff member not to conduct CPR on Woods. The supervisor then “exited the facility and ‘smoked a bunch of cigarettes,’” the claim stated.

Staff allegedly did not call 911 until 20 minutes after Woods was found, according to the claim.

The tort claim notice also alleges staff lacked knowledge of facility policies.

The shift supervisor working at that time was not properly trained, the claim stated. Staff members allegedly did not know facility policies and did not know first aid.

“The county and MCCOYS also fundamentally failed to comply with these requirements,” the claim stated.

Supervisors were tasked with completing suicide assessments but were not provided training, according to the claim.

The facility also allegedly had “severe” and “chronic” staffing deficiencies, the claim stated. The shift supervisor on duty was only employed at the detention center for about four months, according to the claim.

Though OJA standards require a minimum of two direct-care staff on duty at all times, the claim stated a staff member said she was the only one at the facility.

A Muskogee Police Department incident report stated a daily log at the facility noted on the day Woods died, he didn’t feel well and wished to stay in his room.

Annual assessments of MCCOYS conducted by the Office of Juvenile Affairs Office of Public Integrity show no concerns or violations were reported by inspectors in 2016, 2015 or 2014.


National Suicide Prevention Hotline
1-800-273-8255

DHS report: Abuse, lack of supervision found in juvenile facility where teenager died

Agency won’t release records from facility where juvenile died

Your financial support for our investigative journalism is now tax deductible. To become a Friend of The Frontier, click here.

Kassie McClung

Staff writer

Kassie McClung joined The Frontier in May 2016. She reports on health, criminal justice and other state issues. Kassie holds a bachelors degree in multimedia journalism from Oklahoma State University. She likes dogs, maps and data. She can be reached at Kassie@readfrontier.com or 918-935-1044. Follow her on Twitter @KassieMcClung.
Donate