At least 5 employees of Louisville's juvenile jail have violated sexual misconduct policies since 2016, records show
During 2016 and 2017 alone, six cases were substantiated and led to employees’ leaving their jobs, according to reports obtained through a public records request.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- At least five employees of Louisville Metro Youth Detention Services have resigned or been fired in recent years as a direct result of violating city and federal sexual misconduct policies, WDRB News has found.
During 2016 and 2017 alone, six cases were substantiated and led to employees leaving their jobs, according to reports obtained through a public records request.
In fact, that number “alarmed” auditors with the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, which conducted an independent review, paid for by the city and the state and requested by YDS, to find weaknesses at the jail and recommend changes.
While the experts credited local officials with thoroughly reporting violations and taking action, they suggest the number of reports involving newer hires could be a result of unclear policy and a weak screening process.
“The fact that some incidents involved recent hires who crossed professional boundaries … was a particular area of concern given that there may also be incidents that have gone unreported,” the audit said.
At issue is the Prison Rape Elimination Act, a set of strict federal standards established in 2003 to prevent sexual misconduct and hold abusers accountable. All adult and youth corrections facilities in the U.S. must comply with these standards, investigate accusations and document any conclusions or disciplinary action.
“The Prison Rape Elimination Act sounds so scary,” said Dr. Ursula Mullins, the juvenile jail’s director. “No one likes to hear the word rape. They certainly don’t want to hear prison and rape. And they don’t want to think about it as it relates to children.”
In the past few years, LMYDS has seen an increase in PREA incidents. From one in 2014, to four in 2015, then three in 2016 and four in 2017. In an open records request, WDRB asked for all reports since 2015. The city only provided information from April 2016 through July 2017. However, in an online youth jail PREA report, data was listed for 2014 and 2015 totals.
Past and present jail leaders claim there are no reports of physical sexual contact between the underage inmates and employees.
“I’ve not had or seen of where there was one where there was actually any physical type of touching,” said Yvette Gentry, the former Chief of Metro Community Building.
Records obtained by WDRB show employees were fired and have resigned for violating the city’s sexual misconduct rules. These records were provided by the city after interviewing jail leaders, who have not responded to the accusations.
According to a PREA investigation report, in December 2016, Dorothea Burton was accused of talking with female residents about their “sexual encounters.” The report also referred to an external Child Protective Services report that a female confirmed Burton “touched her inappropriately although there was not enough evidence for a Sex Abuse case.”
The city fired Burton, according to the Disciplinary Action Notice, for violating its policies on “sexual contact with a juvenile/client or acting immorally or indecently while on duty.” In that notice, dated in May 2017, the jail states this decision to fire Burton was based on evidence she had “repeated inappropriate conversations” with multiple residents over a period of time about explicit sexual acts and behaviors.
The notice also cites Burton for violating a policy that protects children who make PREA reports from retaliation. It states this is supported by “video footage showing interactions between Ms. Burton and a resident who made allegations against Ms. Burton.”
According to Gentry, the union filed grievances on behalf of Burton to keep her job. Gentry said an arbitrator has not made a ruling yet.
WDRB filed an open records request with Child Protective Services for the investigation and report, but it has not been provided.
The Louisville Metro Police Department is compiling and redacting records of cases referred to the department for investigation by juvenile jail leaders, but a spokesperson for the department could not confirm if Burton’s case was one of them.
Burton’s personnel file was requested from the city, and the Open Records Division stated the records are “in active use, in storage or not otherwise readily available” until Feb. 26.
There are two PREA reports accusing Amanda Offutt of breaking jail policies. In December 2016, a PREA investigation was initiated after statements were made she was discussing several residents’ cases amongst the youth. The memorandum states this accusation was sustained.
The second PREA report, dated April 2017, states two females “felt that they were being sexually harassed” during “inappropriate sexual related conversations” with Offutt. The initial report also accused Offutt of providing her personal cell phone number to a female “to come hang out upon her release.”
According to Offutt’s termination notice, dated in May 2017, Offutt violated policies on staff communications, client relationships, the code of ethics, records management, general procedures and sexual harassment. The notice states she admitted to giving her personal number to a resident.
According to witness statements, Offutt made statements about “causing bodily harm” to other staff members. These witness statements were referenced in the notice, but hard copies were not provided in the open records request.
The notice also states residents were allowed to “look at obscene pictures” on Offutt’s personal phone and that there were “sexual related conversations” between Offutt and the youth. The notice added video evidence did not support the previous accusations, because residents did not have dates and times. However, Offutt was found in violation of the jail’s sexual harassment policy and fired.
When asked over the phone why Offutt was not terminated upon the first PREA report, Mullins said she did not have the reports in front of her and did not know why.
Gentry said the union is also grieving Offutt’s termination, but a decision has not been made.
A PREA report initiated in January 2017 states a resident alerted jail leaders that Alicia Thomas gave her personal address to a previously released male inmate. It also accused Thomas of making sexual comments to residents and giving one of the residents extra snacks.
According to the PREA report’s conclusion, the investigation was conducted outside of the juvenile jail. The jail decided to move forward with terminating Thomas, but she resigned first.
Unnamed Youth Program Worker
In February 2017, an allegation was made against a female Youth Program Worker, accusing her of having sexual contact with a female resident in the jail. According to the report’s conclusion, there was an “insufficient amount of documentation” and no video evidence or statements to indicate she sexually abused the youth.
Since the report recommended the worker be exonerated, WDRB redacted the worker’s name provided in the open records request.
A jail supervisor contacted the PREA hotline in July 2017 regarding a PREA allegation against Kimberly Chan. According to the PREA report, several sexualized letters, appearing to be sent from Chan to a juvenile inmate, were found in Unit 2A during a routine shakedown. The report states one teenager had received more than 40 letters from Chan, and they included “inappropriate sexual related conversations.”
The report’s conclusion states video monitoring “over a time period of moths” supports these accusations. Chan resigned three days after the PREA investigation was initiated.
A PREA report accused Aisha Rhodes of providing her cell phone to inmates in March 2016. The termination notice states Rhodes violated jail and city government policy by allowing two inmates to be in a room together, making it “impossible to physically monitor each resident.” Rhodes was terminated.
Gentry explained that when Rhodes allowed the two inmates to be in the room alone, the two children took a selfie on her cell phone. According to the PREA report, residents “were throwing up gang signs in the pictures.” Gentry said although it was not sexual, it was still a PREA violation.
The current Chief of Community Building, Vincent James, emphasized the jail has a zero tolerance policy, and the number of PREA reports proves leaders are doing their jobs.
“I think the number that you see is an increase, because we’re paying greater attention to things that other facilities may not pay attention to,” James said.
Gentry said violating these standards does not always mean a person committed sexual misconduct. The rules are also to prevent sexual misconduct. Gentry said leaving to kids alone in a room together is not sexual in nature, but allowing that to happen could lead to harassment or abuse.
“The women terminated under my tenure, they are not sexual predators,” Gentry said. “The bad thing for employees is the standard is so high, there is no middle ground. There is no, 'You’re gonna get a one-day suspension.'”
The independent audit, performed by the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, credited juvenile jail leaders with thoroughly reporting violations and taking action. However, it stated, “we were alarmed at the number of substantiated PREA incidents.”
The team of auditors suggested the number of reports involving newer hires could be a result of unclear policies and a weak screening process. It could also mean there may be incidents that have gone unreported, according to the audit.
The audit recommended using additional screening questions or tools to identify staff that might “have a greater likelihood of engaging in inappropriate conduct” with youth. A second recommendation included clarifying boundaries and policies (including on social media) during training.
Jail leaders have not stated if they are using any of the audit’s recommendations for change.
This is part two of a four-part series looking at Louisville's juvenile justice system. To read part one, which delved into a whistleblower claim against the YDS and a pattern of violence from former members of the juvenile jail, click here.
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