When a detainee at the all-girls Lake Academy clogged her toilet with a pillowcase and flooded her room, she said angry workers then jammed something else into the bowl: her head.
The girl was in the mental health treatment facility from December 2012 through mid-December of the next year. One day that July or August, she said, authorities placed the facility on lockdown, which prevented her from going to church on a Tuesday night — an activity she enjoyed. The girl acknowledged in a May 7, 2014, interview with the Department of Juvenile Justice that she had become “extremely belligerent,” and punched the door and walls inside her room.
A witness told an investigator that the girl then threatened to kill herself, and one of the youth care workers told her to “go ahead.”
“In a fit of anger, she decided to overflow the toilet inside her room by cramming an article inside of it,” the DJJ investigator wrote.
Furious, two workers “slammed her into the wall and put her down on the wet floor,” the girl alleged. They told her to unclog the toilet. When the girl leaned over the toilet bowl to dislodge the cloth, she said they “shoved her head down into the toilet,” the report said.
“They kept her head in the toilet somewhere between one to four minutes,” the girl told the investigator, adding “she was screaming, ‘Don’t kill me!’ ”
The alleged incident remained undisclosed for months because, according to the girl, the workers “threatened to put her head in the toilet again if she ever told anyone.” But she did nearly a year later, after an anonymous caller reported the alleged incident to the state’s child abuse hotline.
She had witnesses. Two girls who were at Lake Academy that day told a DJJ investigator strikingly similar stories.
One of the witnesses said “she could hear [the youth] crying and telling the youth care workers to get out of her room, and saying ‘You got my head in the toilet.’ ”
But when the two staff members denied the allegation, an inspector general report determined the unnecessary force allegation was not sustained.
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.