Kids Claim Abuse and Violence at Juvenile Lockup Thompson Academy

DCF officials agreed with the police officer's conclusion that the sexual assault allegations were unfounded. They also don't believe D.L. was harmed by Thompson's guards. A child-abuse hotline call received by DCF in September said D.L. had tried to throw a chair at another inmate, and a guard took him down and held him on the floor using a "questionable technique."

Law enforcement investigators later read written statements by teenagers who had witnessed the incident, and all were "consistent with the staff statements" that D.L. was "not slammed or choked," according to a DCF summary report.

"They reported [D.L.] was disrespectful and not listening to staff directions and escorted, not restrained."

Rep. Luis Garcia Jr. toured the embattled Thompson Academy.
Photo by House Clerk
Rep. Luis Garcia Jr. toured the embattled Thompson Academy.
Rep. Evan Jenne expressed concerns after touring Thompson Academy.
Photo by House Clerk
Rep. Evan Jenne expressed concerns after touring Thompson Academy.

In the case of Snow's son, DCF investigators reached a similar conclusion. They conceded that he lost three pounds in four months at Thompson, but "there was no other evidence to establish excessive force," a summary report stated. "[The] youth had attacked other clients and been restrained in the past."

As for the fight that sent Davie to the hospital, a Pembroke Pines police report provides a markedly different explanation from the one Reggie says she was given by the mothers of other kids who witnessed the incident.

According to the report, the Thompson inmates were playing touch football on the morning of January 1. Davie tackled another boy, violating the rules of this nonviolent 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 Davie in the face. The teenager told police that he was tired of Davie's "constant bullying" and that "it really bothered him" when Davie tackled the smaller boy.

When he fell, Davie 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., Davie complained that his jaw hurt, the report says. He was taken to Memorial Regional Hospital.

The police report doesn't 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." But neither the DCF investigator nor the police officer interviewed Davie, because he was still in the hospital, unable to talk.

In fact, of the 13 abuse allegations reported at Thompson last year, DCF concluded that only one of them had merit — the boy whose arm was broken by the guards.

In the state's eyes, Thompson is a praiseworthy institution. In October 2009, it received a "commendable performance" grade in a quality assurance review conducted by investigators from the state Department of Juvenile Justice. Last November, after the lawsuit was filed, officials returned to see if the good grade should stand. They reviewed six case management and medical files, conducted "three youth and three staff surveys," and did "several informal interviews with youth, staff, and management personnel," according to a summary report. When the review was finished, the investigators decided that Thompson should retain its "deemed status," meaning it has an overall performance rating of 80 percent or higher.

Youth Services has filed a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing that the SPLC has provided no proof of "actual injury" to the children nor evidence that the problems go beyond a small group of prisoners. "As to the claims of excessive force, inadequate medical care, inadequate food, and sexual abuse, these too fail because there are no allegations of actual injury cognizable in prisoner actions," the company's lawyer, Tod Aronovitz, wrote in a court pleading.

The company also obtained an affidavit from an inmate's mother, Gema Londono of Miami, who says she's seen "significant improvement" in her son's behavior since he arrived at Thompson Academy.

"He is more respectful, and his manners and speech have improved," she wrote. "[He] has been awarded a scholarship for school after he is released from the facility. I am extremely grateful and happy for the impact Thompson Academy has had on my son's life."

Neither Ferguson nor Slattery responded to requests for comment. Aronovitz has asked for a gag order in the case. DJJ denied New Times' request to tour Thompson.

But in early February, a small group of local legislators was granted an opportunity to tour the lockup. Rep. Luis Garcia Jr. (D-Miami Beach) and Rep. Evan Jenne (D-Dania Beach) saw freshly painted walls, blanketed by the chemical smell of bleach. There were guards in baggy shorts who "look more like inmates than counselors," Garcia said.

"I wasn't very happy with it," he added. "Even juvenile delinquents have the same rights that you and I have to safety, and I don't think they're getting that at the Thompson Academy."

Garcia was particularly concerned that there was only one staffer — a psychologist — who could speak enough Spanish to communicate with the inmates who weren't fluent in English.

Jenne said he had the "overwhelming feeling" that Thompson officials were putting on a show for the lawmakers. One parent was brought in to describe how wonderful the facility was, but upon further questioning, she admitted that she was hoping to win a contract to provide music lessons at the academy.

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Rhette Michaels
Rhette Michaels

Why doesn't the state put someone in undercover? It'd get to the bottom of the doubts faster than a dozen trips by "politickers". If the lawyers pretended enough to accept the case, they definitely ought to know what a order of protection is...that would get the offending parties away from the kids. Personally, I hate the thought of 'for profit' institutions. They've got NO incentive to get them out of the system while they're making a buck from them.


this stuff dates back to 2004(thompson academy). there exists info that clearly states that these issues and others were put in writing that are quite similar to what's in this report. the question to ask is/was DJJ in bed with the provider. there are people who know.