A guard at a juvenile prison found herself behind bars this week after she was caught on tape battering a teenage detainee.
Although the encounter got Shannon Linn Abbott arrested, it didn’t get her fired. The 33-year-old bailed out and was back on the job right afterward and supervising children, to the extreme dismay of the Department of Juvenile Justice.
On Tuesday, a DJJ administrator formally asked the privately managed youth prison’s director to remove the guard from all access to children.
“It is our expectation, at the very least, that this staff member will have no contact with youth in any of our programs,” wrote Laura K. Moneyham, a DJJ assistant secretary.
The incident marks the third time in recent years that workers at a Florida juvenile justice lockup have been videotaped while abusing or neglecting a child in state custody.
Abbott, who works at the Milton Girls Juvenile Residential Facility in Northwest Florida, was charged by the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office with battery causing great bodily harm.
The facility remains under investigation in the incident. Jeff Kaplan, who heads the private company that runs Milton under a state contract, could not be reached for comment.
“We are deeply concerned that the incident, as depicted in the video . . . contradicts its description to us by officials representing the facility,” Wansley Walters, DJJ secretary, said of the Aug. 9 incident. “We are also troubled that the facility did not officially report the incident to DJJ until two days after it occurred, and only when the victim called the [Department of Children & Families] abuse hotline. This lapse is inexplicable.”
According to a police report, the 15-year-old detainee, who is not identified, was being escorted by Abbott, who was holding the girl’s elbows as they walked. Most of what occurred during the alleged assault was captured by DJJ surveillance cameras, which are installed in most youth facilities.
The tape shows the guard slamming the 15-year-old face-first against a concrete wall, then throwing her on the floor, face down, and sitting on top of her for several minutes.
A second woman assists, sitting on the teenager’s legs for several minutes.
“The victim is not showing any signs of resisting. The victim is observed not pulling her arms away from the defendant; the victim is not attempting to strike the defendant in any manner and is compliant throughout the entire event,” the police report says.
The video indicates Abbott remained on top of the girl for more than 10 minutes.
During the time the girl is pinned to the floor, other women walk in and out of the picture. One sits in a chair and does work. One stands, clutching a pink purse, and appears to have a lengthy conversation with the two guards.
“The victim stated she did get an ice pack after this occurred,” police wrote, adding the girl’s eye was nearly swollen shut.
Walters said the lack of any action by the other women in the room as Abbott and the other guard restrained the girl for minutes on end disturbs her greatly.
“It makes me sick,” the DJJ secretary said.
“No one seems to be alarmed by what’s happening there. Definitely, there are issues that we need to have a serious conversation about.”
The girl told police Abbott was angry at her for being “disruptive in the classroom.” The girl called the DCF abuse hotline the next day. DCF closed its investigation with a verified finding that Abbott had physically abused the girl.
“This is why we are working so hard to change this juvenile justice system and to create avenues in the community so that children do not end up in facilities,” Walters said.
The video of Abbott is the third that documents the abuse or neglect of a delinquent child.
In 2006, 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson died following a violent restraint at the Bay County Boot Camp, a Panama City lockup for juvenile delinquents. The 30-minute restraint was captured on video, and fueled a nationwide scandal over the treatment of delinquent youth. Seven guards and a nurse were charged in the case; all were acquitted.
In July 2011, the final hours of 18-year-old Eric Perez were also captured on video. Records show Eric was dropped on his head by guards during “horse play,” and he died hours later when guards, supervisors and the Palm Beach County lockup superintendent refused to call 911 to get him medical care. One guard walked over Eric’s limp body as he lay dying in a cellblock, videos show.