News 9 Tours Tecumseh Juvenile Facility Where Teen Committed Suicide
TECUMSEH, Oklahoma - Allegations of child sexual abuse, drug use, filthy conditions, and the suicide of a teenage girl this month that should have been prevented. That’s what some employees of the Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Tecumseh say goes on behind closed doors and high fences.
The teen hanged herself at the state juvenile center on January first. Records obtained by News 9 show that she was left alone in a shower room for more than 20 minutes.
Employees News 9 spoke with say conditions at the juvenile center are horrible.
News 9 is not identifying the teen or the employees involved, as the investigation into the suicide continues.
According to records, the teen was found, “…hanging from the ceiling above the toilet. She was hanging from a sheet with a knot tied around her neck. The sheet was tied around the vent on the ceiling.”
Employees say the teen should have been checked on after five minutes, but wasn’t. They’re not surprised by the suicide.
"No. I wasn't surprised at all,” one source said. “The way that the system is ran and the way the facility is ran, is honestly ludicrous. They don't care nothing about those kids.”
Employees say the teen told them she was sexually abused by former employee Renee Barnett. Barnett is charged with sexually assaulting another resident at the facility in November.
When the facility heard of the allegations, they called police and fired Barnett.
"Sexual assault is not an acceptable practice at all. I need to be very clear about that,” said Steven Buck of the Office of Juvenile Affairs.
“Anytime there are accusations like that, we take extraordinary bounds to make sure that we provide for separation of the youth from the alleged perpetrator,” he continued.
Employees complain kids are locked up; sometimes for weeks or months at a time.
"I'm gonna say it. Solitary confinement. They keep them off in solitary confinement,” a source said. “They are cut off socially, mentally from other things that are going on in the facility. They are not allowed to basically do anything."
News 9 saw the rooms and they aren’t very clean. But the office of juvenile affairs says, sometimes they’re necessary to protect residents.
"This is a hardened area. The availability of assets that can be weaponized is limited. So, would you see a concrete slab with a light bed? A lightly mattresses bed? Yes. Because people in there have demonstrated a threat to others,” said Buck.
Staffers also told News 9 of drug abuse at the facility and drugs being smuggled in by staffers.
"And the kids are taking them and they're getting passed throughout the facility. And then the kids are, their behaviors are changing due to the drugs, which is posing a threat to staff and residents,” a source told News 9.
Juvenile Affairs says contraband is always a concern, but dorms are checked and drug dogs are brought in periodically.
Finally, staffers complained about what they call filthy conditions.
"The sewage, it backs up. And so, the girls are living in an area that has raw sewage that backs up. They're able to access broken glass,” a source said. "I mean there's mold, asbestos, doors don't secure like they're supposed to. There’s holes in the roof, water leaks. It's not conditions for these kids."
Buck said, "Our campus in Tecumseh is a 100-year-old retrofitted school for wayward girls. That is what it was built as. It is not a campus that's built to serve the population that it's currently serving."
There are plans to build a new campus by early 2021.