Only on 12: Former Augusta YDC guard makes corruption allegations

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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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It's been a little more than a week since 19-year-old YDC inmate Jade Holder was beaten to death.

His funeral was held Wednesday, but there are still a lot of questions about what happens behind bars at the Augusta Youth Development Campus.

Now, numbers show criminal activity that the state of Georgia admits happened under their watch.

The data from the Department of Juvenile Justice shows an unsettling truth, echoed by a former guard who wants to hide his identity because of what he says is corruption at the YDC.

"There is staff in there that is just as corrupt as anybody who's behind bars," he said. "That's why we can't show our face, because they'll come after us, too."

This former guard and military veteran continued to tell of a culture of fear coming out of the Augusta YDC.

The DJJ numbers obtained by News 12 paint the picture -- 86 reported incidents of employee misconduct during the first 10 months of this year, ranking Augusta's YDC as the second highest in the state.

"I had a kid tell me one time that he received notes he was going to get jumped and I report it to try to get him into a protective custody area and the sergeant on duty says, 'He deserves it, leave him there.' That's happened before," he said.

"You've had a superior tell you that?" asked News 12's Lynnsey Gardner.

"Right," he replied.

But even all that wasn't enough to make him quit -- it was something else.

"I couldn't handle the 20-hour shifts days we had to work," he said. "You can't be sharp when you're tired."

Sharp to handle some inmates that are a real problem to manage.

"We're a mental health facility. That means they got issues in in the first place," he said.

Augusta's YDC was No. 1 for substantial damage to state property by juveniles. There have been 12 total incidents, including 10 fires.

"If they don't get their way, they pout like little kids and light their cell on fire. I see that got to get the kid out of there and put it out, evacuate the unit and if you're by yourself, that's hard to do," he said.

Another problem in the YDC is the contraband that makes its way inside the walls of the facility. There have been 104 instances in just 10 months, making Augusta the second highest in the state.

Insiders say it's things like cigarettes, cellphones, pot and alcohol disguised in soda bottles.

"Filled with vodka, moonshine, whatever you want ... buy it for $10 and make $40," a former inmate said.

This former YDC inmate says juveniles are buying the contraband from select guards. In September, juvenile guard Shawn Tice was fired and charged with felony possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.

His car was parked at the neighboring Regional Youth Detention Center facility with 10 bags of pot and a scale inside. An example the guard calls a contraband problem so vast he couldn't fight it.

"There was a cellphone found -- our lieutenant called some of the numbers on it and found one of the guards was on that phone. He reported it to one of his superiors and it got swept under the rug," said the former guard.

The lieutenant he spoke of no longer works there, either.

He says these practices are embedded and have long been accepted.

"Was it a bit of a gang atmosphere?" Gardner asked.

"Definitely," he said. "Three of the units are set up in a gang atmosphere and they are running around and they are allowed to. They tattoo each other and the staff. I know, the ones that report it, nothing gets done about it. It just gets to where it's a waste of time to even try."

"Report it to who?" Gardner asked.

"To our superiors," he replied.

As for the fighting -- like the beating that killed Holder in his single cell that was supposed to confine and protect him -- there were 131 reported physical fights by inmates within a 10-month period. There have also been four documented riots.

And as for youth on staff, there have been 65 reported cases of physical altercations, which is the second highest in Georgia. There has been a total of 231 injuries, some of which required hospitalizations.

The former guard said he probably saw a good 80 to 90 employees leave the facility during the time he was there.

"They got a turnover that won't quit down there. Some come out of school and within one or two weeks, they are gone already," the former guard said.

This is a cycle the new head of the DJJ promises to stop.

Commissioner Gail Buckner was sworn in days after Holder's death. She says the entire facility is being investigated from the bottom, up.

The GBI says it could take months to do -- months because there are a growing number of investigations at work here. First, the homicide investigation, then the contraband investigation by the DJJ after News 12's exclusive report last week and third, a sexual harassment investigation.

Meanwhile, the next DJJ commissioner is addressing Holder's death to staff across the state. You can read what Buckner has to say on the internal memo linked above.