A teenage girl hanged herself at Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Tecumseh this month. Records obtained by News9 show staff should have done more to prevent the suicide. And staff members agree.
The girl hanged herself at the facility on New Year’s day. She died a few days later on January 8th. Now documents obtained by news 9 and interviews with folks who work here paint a picture of what exactly happened.
We are not identifying the girl or any of the staff at the facility while the investigation continues. But documents we obtained show the teen, who staff say was supposed to be checked on after five minutes, was alone in the bathroom for about 25-minutes; giving her plenty of time to kill herself. The documents show the teen was found by another resident, not a staffer, and that she was “…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”
According to the documents, a resident later told a staffer, “I told (EXPLETIVE) staff to check on her, because she has been telling me about her problems all day and they wouldn’t (EXPLETIVE) do it.”
Staffers we spoke with say this isn’t a shock, "No. I wasn't surprised at all. 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. They don't care nothing about the employees. They look at these kids as a paycheck coming into the facility." A source told News9, "Basically we're state paid babysitters."
Another source said, "These kids are supposed to be protected. They’re supposed to have an environment that they're safe in. They don't have that."
Current and former employees say the children here live in poor conditions, and have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of staffers. Court documents obtained by News 9 show 50-year old former staffer Renee Barnett was charged with molesting a teenage girl at the facility last November, and staffers say he also molested the girl who committed suicide. "She actually told people that Barnett did touch her too." A source said
State officials say they really can’t talk about the suicide, calling it a “Critical incident” because of an ongoing investigation. "The critical incident that occurred on our campus is under investigation. That includes both our investigation as well as the Oklahoma commission on children and youth.” Said Steven Buck of the Office of Juvenile Affairs, “Those timelines will be complete when they are complete. It's very important that we understand all elements of the incident."
Staffers we spoke with say they know what the problem is: A lack of trained staff and they say a lack of concern from higher ups. "It could have been prevented. But like nobody done care about them kids to like prevent it. Like her life could have been saved but nobody done care." One source said, "I guarantee there will be other deaths."
The office of Juvenile Affairs released a statement saying, “The Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA) continues to investigate the critical incident that occurred on its Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center campus on January 1, 2019. The Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth is also investigating. Any additional comment is inappropriate at this time because the incident is under investigation.
As to the sexual assault that occurred at the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center, the staff member was suspended immediately at the time of the allegation and then terminated soon after. An OJA CLEET-certified police officer investigated the incident, arrested the person and presented information to the local district attorney who filed criminal charges.
An investigation is also underway into an allegation that the young woman involved in the critical incident was a victim of the person facing the criminal charge.
OJA values the safety and protection of its staff and the youth in its care. Our dedicated staff are committed to positive outcomes for the youth we serve. OJA looks forward to the construction of a Next Generation Campus for Oklahoma’s juvenile justice-involved youth as authorized by the Legislature in 2017. This new facility, which will be built on the campus of the current Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Tecumseh, will provide a modern, safe, therapeutic environment for youth and staff.
In the interest and protection of the youth served by OJA, the agency reminds media outlets and individuals about the confidentiality protections under state law (Section 10A §2-6-104B) that states it is unlawful for any person to furnish any confidential record or disclose any confidential information contained in any juvenile record for commercial, political or any other unauthorized purpose. Disclosure of protected information of any juvenile justice involved person may result in a misdemeanor conviction.”