When a 15-year-old from Broward accused a youth worker of sexually abusing her — twice — police found it nearly impossible to investigate the allegations. Administrators of a Pembroke Pines youth program kept the complaint under wraps for months until a children’s advocacy lawyer started asking questions.
Eventually, Tara Bostick went to federal court to seek justice for her child, a transgender youth who was committed to the Thompson Academy in Pembroke Pines, a facility that had a long history of alleged abuse. Bostick’s child was sentenced as a boy — but identifies as a girl.
Within weeks of the teen’s commitment, the detainee told her mother she was repeatedly mistreated by staff because of her appearance. Within six months, she said she had been sexually assaulted twice by a male worker. Both times, administrators with Youth Services International, which operated the Broward program, failed to respond, a lawsuit filed by Bostick said.
The breadth and sordid details of the accusations became public as part of the lawsuit against the now-closed juvenile program — a 154-bed moderate-risk facility — and its top administrator, alleging they had failed to protect the youth.
In early 2010, while the youth was alone in a laundry room washing clothes, the lawsuit said, a member of the staff walked in and grabbed his own crotch and asked, “Are you going to suck it?”
“The [worker] was looking around to see if anybody was watching, and then he would try to go into the bathroom to make [the youth] give him oral sex,” Bostick said her child told her.
The youth said she was forced to perform oral sex. When the staffer ejaculated, the youth spit the semen into a rag, which she saved — and reported the assault to another worker, and, later, the program’s administrator. The administrator “instructed [the youth] not to mention the incident to anyone,” the lawsuit said.
Her child “reached out to two employees who were there, and they didn’t do anything about it,” Bostick told the Miami Herald.
The accused man was allowed continued unsupervised contact with the youth. Thompson’s administrator later said an assistant handled the case improperly.
Thompson’s administrator told police he had asked his assistant to respond to the youth’s allegations, but the assistant “did not follow procedure and report the complaint to the abuse hotline or the police, and basically did his own investigation,” a police report said. The man “determined that the alleged incident did not occur.”
But the following August, the lawsuit claimed, it happened again with the same worker.
This time, the staff member took the youth off campus to the dentist’s office. During the visit, the staffer followed the detainee into the bathroom, stood behind her and asked, “Are you going to do it?” The youth asked what he meant. “Suck it,” the staffer responded, according to the lawsuit. The guard insisted the detainee could exit the stall only after performing oral sex, the lawsuit said.
An investigation by Pembroke Pines police ended with no charges. The case was hindered by the accuser’s inconsistent statements, a report said, as well as the failure of Thompson Academy to collect evidence and respond to the allegations.
A “critical issue relevant to this investigation is that absolutely no paperwork exists with the Thompson Academy as to internal investigations on this incident,” the police report said.
After the alleged assaults, the youth attempted suicide multiple times, by drinking bleach and trying to hang herself, the lawsuit said.
Now 22, the accuser is serving a nearly five-year prison sentence for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and criminal mischief. The lawsuit against Youth Services International was settled for an undisclosed amount.
This narrative is part of Tales from the Front, a collection of short stories about Florida's juvenile justice system. The Miami Herald investigated the state's youth corrections system following the 2015 beating death of a Miami-Dade detainee. Read the full "Fight Club" investigative series here.