Sheriff: Highlands Youth Academy is 'unequivocal train wreck'

- As expected, Sheriff Grady Judd did not hold back.

"This is an absolute, unequivocal train wreck," said Judd.

Judd's talking about the Avon Park Highland Youth Academy. It's the same one that had a violent riot four years ago.

Deputies said dozens of juveniles on the campus trashed almost every building, set a dumpster on fire, and stole golf carts. It caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage.

But it exposed something even more troubling.

"Private enterprise made millions and millions off of the state of Florida and taxpayers while failing the juveniles they were supposed to be taking care of," explained Judd.

A private company, G4S was put in charge of the safety and security of juveniles. But instead, Judd says profit trumped protection.

Administrators turned a blind eye to sexual and physical abuse by guards.

Last year employee Deidre Baucom pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct with a juvenile. Judd says the violations and accusations stacked up but the staff ignored all the warnings.

"We've been screaming and hollering and jumping up and down and bringing criminal charges and stopping riots and nobody pays attention. Come on people, this is our children," said Judd.

And then in 2015, a fight in the juvenile facility leads to the escape of a juvenile. In the surveillance video, you see the inmate quietly slip out a side door.

Judd said it took four hours for staff to notify the sheriff's office of the escape.

Now, three administrators are in jail facing neglect, tampering with evidence, and conspiracy charges.

Judd said the checks and balances that were put in place to protect the kids simply failed.

"They just went right on with that same horrific conduct paying absolutely zero attention," said Judd.

He says he would like to see independent oversight that reports directly to the governor.

Up Next:


Up Next

  • Sheriff: Highlands Youth Academy is 'unequivocal train wreck'
  • Clearwater police target move-over violators
  • Pinellas won't show school-shooting video in elementary classrooms
  • In first 8 months of year, manatee death toll surpasses 2017
  • Tampa judge considers Casey Anthony bankruptcy case
  • Deputies: Man drove into building while stealing boat
  • Busch Gardens seeking scary employees
  • Manatee school upgrades millions more than expected
  • Mother of Clearwater murder victim says 'enough'
  • Scammers' fake checks causing headaches for legitimate Bay Area business