Juveniles Alleging Sexual Assault and Abuse at Thompson Academy Agree to Settle Lawsuit

Ending a seven-month legal battle that raised questions about living conditions at private juvenile prisons, the teenagers who alleged they were physically and sexually abused at the Thompson Academy in Pembroke Pines have reached a settlement with the owners of the for-profit lockup.

A federal class-action lawsuit, filed last October by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of five former residents of Thompson Academy, was scheduled for trial in June. The settlement will avoid a public courtroom battle over allegations that one 14-year-old boy was twice sexually assaulted by a counselor and that other residents were beaten and undernourished at the facility. (Read New Times' feature story on the case here).

Attorneys for Thompson Academy had argued in court documents that the alleged sexual encounters between the 14-year-old boy and a 23-year-old male counselor, if they occurred, were consensual.

They alleged the teenager was gay and enjoyed performing oral sex on the counselor.

Pembroke Pines police officers investigated the sexual assault allegations and declared them "unfounded" but also criticized Thompson Academy officials for not reporting the alleged assaults to the police or state child welfare investigators until several months after they allegedly occurred, when no physical evidence was available.

Investigators from the state Department of Children an Families also did not find merit to the allegation that another 16-year-old had been slammed into a wall and choked by a guard at Thompson.

The plaintiffs were seeking monetary damages in the suit, but the terms of the settlement have not been made public. Vanessa Carroll, a Southern Poverty Law Center attorney who represented the Thompson Academy residents, declined to comment. Tod Aronovitz, attorney for Thompson Academy owner Youth Services International, could not immediately be reached for comment.

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