For two hours, juvenile detainee Eric Perez cried, screamed, banged on his cell wall, and insisted he heard voices.
But prison guard Terence Davis was convinced that the youth was “faking it.”
Davis, a state report released Friday said, told a colleague it was not worth the paperwork to send Perez to a hospital.
In a scene hauntingly similar to the death of a teen at the Miami lockup nearly a decade earlier, guards, supervisors and the superintendent of the West Palm Beach juvenile detention center all did nothing for hours while Perez slowly died from a cerebral hemorrhage.
Perez’s July 10, 2011, death sent shockwaves through Florida’s chronically troubled juvenile justice system: Though administrators had pledged years earlier to “treat every child as if he was your own,” detention staff had, once again, neglected a youth to death.
The last day of Perez — who turned 18 while detained at the center, and was scheduled to be released imminently — is detailed in a 48-page report, dated Oct. 16, by the Department of Juvenile Justice’s Inspector General. It was released Friday morning. The teen’s death sparked the firing of nine employees of the detention center, including the superintendent.
“We have cleaned house,” said DJJ spokesman C.J. Drake, “and we are continuing to clean house.”
DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters released a statement Friday morning: “On behalf of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and all whom we serve, I first wish to say how much I continue to regret the death of Eric Perez in our agency’s care on July 10, 2011. I think about Eric every day. I still see his face every day. His death continues to be a very painful memory for this agency. While I hope that Eric’s family has found closure, we will continue to improve what we do every day with him in mind.”
She added: “I want to emphasize that DJJ will not tolerate conduct that puts kids, employees or the public at risk. We are committed to operating a safe and secure juvenile justice system and will take firm and decisive action against those who do not share that commitment.”
The report outlined a series of failures involving lockup staff, including nurse Marcia Clough’s decision not to examine the youth when she arrived for duty the morning Perez died; the actions of two guards who engaged in “improper searches and horseplay” with several detainees; and two guards’ failure to follow lockup procedures for medical emergencies.
Following Perez’s death, Walters said, DJJ made several moves:
• The agency sent orders “via multiple channels to all DJJ employees reiterating the directive to call 911 immediately when a situation appears urgent, or if there is any concern for the health of a youth that cannot be addressed by medical staff on site.”
• DJJ administrators met with a variety of juvenile justice “stakeholders” in Palm Beach County — including judges, prosecutors, public defenders, advocates and clergy — to hear their concerns before adopting a reform plan.
• Staff at the West Palm Beach lockup received beefed-up training on the necessity of calling for emergency aid when a youngster is in crisis.