SLED report finds ‘systemic issues’ but no broken laws in DJJ review

Published: Nov. 15, 2021 at 9:59 PM EST
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RICHLAND COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - A new report from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division found the criminal investigations process at the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice is deeply flawed, but not criminal.

In June, Governor Henry McMaster ordered SLED to review the DJJ’s practices, just days before staffers walked out over low pay, long hours, and dangerous conditions.

RELATED | McMaster directs SLED, Department of Administration to review DJJ policies

RELATED | SC DJJ security staff, teachers walk off the job

The department and then-Director Freddie Pough faced criticism for its conditions, decision-making, and policies from lawmakers and employees in a series of hearings over the summer.

One of the most vocal critics was Sen. Dick Harpootlian (D-Richland) who challenged Pough over his knowledge of mandated statutory reporting.

In a May hearing, Harpootlian asked Pough to resign.

RELATED | State lawmakers call for changes in DJJ and its leadership

The SLED report, signed by Chief Mark Keel, found no criminal conduct or neglect found in a six-month review of roughly 300 cases.

Harpootlian said he has not yet read the report but continues to have “grave” questions about department processes.

The report conceded there are challenges in prosecuting juvenile criminal cases. However, it found DJJ investigators lacked interview recording equipment, a designated and private place to run interviews, and interviews outside of the Columbia area are often not done in-person.

Additionally, agents found “oftentimes” DJJ case files were not “a professional law enforcement work product.”

It also found note-taking on interviews and formal reports often had “grammatical errors” and a “stunning lack of detail.”

The report found inconsistencies with the process of handling the cases and the quality of investigative record keeping.

SLED outlined a series of recommendations, including training, filling the department’s Inspector General vacancy, and hiring a victims’ advocate.

A spokesperson for the DJJ sent a statement reading:

We are appreciative of SLED’s review and findings. Acting Director Hendrick is continuing to review all agency policies and procedures, and we anticipate incorporating many of SLED’s recommendations. Also, filling the currently vacant Inspector General position is a priority item for Acting Director Hendrick, and she is actively working to find the right candidate to help our agency.

State Sen. Katrina Shealy (R-Lexington) has been outspoken on DJJ issues and said she has not yet read the report. However, she said staffing remains the key issue.

RELATED | Acting DJJ Director gives lawmakers update on embattled agency

“Until we get those security jobs filled, the corrections officers job filled,” she said. “You can’t be in control out there, you can’t, the youth are still in charge, they’re still having fights every day. They’re still having, security officers are still being injured, youth are still being injured.”

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