Broward News

Broward Juvenile Detention Center Drags Its Feet After 17-Year-Old Reports Sexual Assault

Earlier this summer, chief assistant public defender Gordon Weekes commented that dealing with the Broward Juvenile Detention Center was “like Whack-a-Mole: You get them to address one problem, and four other problems come up.”

The latest defect is particularly disturbing: A 17-year-old boy says he was molested while sleeping in his bunk and woke up to realize that a staff member was fondling his penis and buttocks. (Both names are being withheld.)

When the staffer realized the 17-year-old was conscious, he warned him not to tell anyone — otherwise, he’d put a “Code Blue” on him, telling the other kids at the detention center to jump him. As New Times previously reported, this is a common form of punishment at the Broward Juvenile Detention Center, since staffers can write up an incident report saying the kids got into a fight, ensuring attackers aren't held personally responsible.

Despite his fears of retaliation, the 17-year-old reported the incident to the Florida Abuse Hotline. Fort Lauderdale police came to take his statement and opened an investigation. But the staff member wasn’t put on leave or transferred to a different position, and the 17-year-old boy still had to interact with him on a daily basis.

“In any other circumstance, the kid would be taken to sexual assault treatment,” Weekes says. “What message does that send? It says that they don’t take these allegations seriously.”

It also seems to violate Department of Juvenile Justice policy. As Secretary Christina K. Daly wrote in an email, "The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice takes all allegations of sexual abuse seriously and immediately contacts law enforcement to respond and investigate. When it is alleged a staff member is the abuser, the staff member is removed from all youth contact until the investigation by law enforcement is complete. It is my expectation that any and all individuals considered mandatory reporters under Florida law report all allegations of neglect or abuse to the Florida Abuse Hotline.”

Finally, on August 4, two weeks after the incident, Judge Carlos Rebollo allowed the 17-year-old to be released to his family. He’s now home and has gotten a job while he waits for the investigation to run its course. “I’m glad that my kid is out of there and no longer has contact with [his attacker],” says public defender Adam Goldberg, who represents the 17-year-old. “But it shouldn’t have taken as long as it did. He shouldn’t have had continued exposure to that individual while he was waiting for that to happen.”
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Antonia Farzan is a fellow at New Times. After receiving a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, she moved to South Florida to pursue her dream of seeing a manatee and meeting DJ Khaled (ideally at the same time). She was born and raised in Rhode Island and has a BA in classics from Hamilton College.