Only On 12: Augusta YDC officers fired for possible crimes but not charged

Richmond County YDC
Jade Holder, 19, died after being attacked in the Augusta Youth Development Campus. (WRDW-TV / Nov. 9, 2011)
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News 12 First at Five / Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Pam Holder has one burning question following her son's murder while in state custody at the Augusta Youth Development Campus.

"What is so shocking to me is how could you let it get this far? I'm talking about the adults that manage this. I mean, who hired these people?"

News 12 is investigating that very question: Who's in charge and what's being done when an officer violates the rules?

One officer lost his job for failing to lock the cell doors on the night of Nov. 7. The Department of Juvenile Justice says that allowed the fatal beating of 19-year-old inmate Jade Holder. So far, no criminal action has been taken on Marlon McCreary, the officer accused of not locking those cell doors.

Two more officers and a counselor were also just fired for admittedly violating policy connected to the homicide investigation.

In two years, the DJJ has terminated at least 37 employees, mostly officers, but two supervisors are in that mix, including the director. Beyond the homicide investigation, some terminations were due to illegal contraband, physical abuse, some were even cited as child abuse. In another case, there was an inappropriate relationship between a guard and a youth. But out of all 37 listed, only one officer has faced any criminal charges.

The Augusta YDC is in the middle of an overhaul from the leadership on down.

It began with Jade's beating last month.

"I understand now the denial that people go through when their child dies," explained his mother, Pam. "It's going to take a very long time for me to forgive these people for the injustice that you gave to my child."

DJJ Commissioner Gale Buckner says Jade's homicide investigation is still unfolding.

"I think the lessons that were learned surrounding Mr. Holder's death will help us make sure that this doesn't happen again," she said.

So far, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has charged 17-year-old Michael Everidge with murder -- acharge even the murder victim's mother dismisses.

"Actually, I don't hold the youths that killed my child responsible," Pam said. "I hold the adults up the ladder ... The people that are over the adults that are watching these children. I hold them responsible. "

Buckner took over as the DJJ's leader the week after Jade was killed. Under her watch, five employees have been fired from the Augusta YDC, including Director John Brady. Two assistant directors were demoted and offered transfers; Buckner says she's no longer confident in their leadership abilities.

She says more terminations are possible.

"We will not tolerate anyone bringing contraband into this facility, abusing our youth or abusing each other," Buckner said. "Personnel actions will be swift and certain."

News 12 combed through hundreds of pages of records from the DJJ. It appears that before Buckner took the position, very few officers have faced any discipline beyond termination. Some lost their state-issued law enforcement certification, but that was less than half.

These termination records are from January of 2009 to the week Jade was killed. In those near 24 months we found 33 employees, mostly officers and one assistant director were fired. That includes Officer McCreary, but not the four other recent firings.

Officers Lesa Benton and Antonio Blount were both fired for choking a youth during two separate fights. As a result, one youth involved reportedly had bruises and needed medical care. Benton was fired in 2009 and Blount in April of this year. Neither have been charged.

Both cases were turned over to the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, and both employees still hold their certifications.

We also found five additional officers were fired for physical altercations with youths. One guard, Bobby Harrison, was told in black and white by DJJ officials he had committed child abuse against the youth. He has not been charged with a crime either. Same story for those other officers.

One of those firings wasn't even reported to post officials by the DJJ. Of those that were, POST investigated -- not DJJ -- and two officers' certifications were revoked.

But that does not include Harrison. Technically, he could still be employed as a law enforcement officer in Georgia.

"I am shocked at the corruption that's inside the Augusta facility. How could you let it get this far?" Pam asked. "I mean, who hired these people?"

News 12 found more. Althea Braddy was terminated for an "inappropriate" and unprofessional relationship with a youth. Her certification was revoked but it seems that was the end of the line. Again, no criminal charges were pursued.

News 12 found four more guards were fired for smuggling in contraband from cellphones to illegal drugs, all punishable offenses under Georgia law.

Out of these records, only one officer has been criminally charged. That was officer Shawn Tice. He was fired and investigated by the Richmond County Sheriff's Office for bringing 10 bags of marijuana and a scale to the facility's parking lot.

The DJJ opened the current contraband investigation after former guards and a prison pastor came forward to News 12 in an exclusive report. Buckner admitted to us in this interview that the contraband was there. Now, she's focused on making changes.

"We are doing unannounced task force visits," she said. "We are going in and literally doing shakedowns of our facilities using K-9 units in an attempt to weed out any drugs that have been smuggled into the facility as well as intense searches for cellphones, computers, chargers, cigarettes, any sort of narcotic."

Other guards complained exclusively to News 12 that the Augusta YDC was severely understaffed and officers were working extremely long shifts. Buckner, again, says that was true. She has since hired 25 new employees and more are coming. She also says new training procedures are underway.

"I have many of the youth here that tell me that they do feel safe," Buckner said.

Jade's mother told News 12 if any officers broke any law related to her son's murder, she hopes they will be held criminally responsible.

"I will not stop until i get justice for my child. As you sit home and eat dinner and look at your children, remember what you allowed to happen to someone else's child. You will not forget me. And you will not forget my child. "

News 12's Lynnsey Gardner was in contact with the DJJ Tuesday to include sending along the names in this report and possible statutes that may have been broken under Georgia law such as child abuse, battery, assault, contraband beyond secure guard lines and at the very least, violating their oath of office. So far, questions as to what may have happened in each of these specific cases have not been answered.

Earlier today, the DJJ told us their policy on terminations. They say after an officer is fired, their case is sent to POST. Which again, POST told News 12 they did not receive all of those terminations.

Also quoting DJJ here, "DJJ's Office of Investigation works closely with the appropriate law enforcement agency whenever DJJ employees are suspected of criminality. Agents of the GBI continue to conduct investigative interviews at Augusta YDC."

News 12 obtained the termination letters for the following employees: