By the time the brawl in Bravo 2 module was over, toppled furniture littered the floor, lighting dangled from the ceiling, four youths were in police custody and staffers on duty that night at the Manatee Regional Juvenile Detention Center stood accused of doing little to stop it.
It’s unclear what started the riot, though an investigation noted there “had been a disturbance earlier that day” that inexplicably wasn’t recorded, and some of the boys were “agitated because they had not yet taken showers.” It ended with an investigation into allegations that the youths were left unsupervised, that officers failed to act when the riot began and that staff failed to ensure their safety.
On March 19, 2014, a supervisor notified the Department of Juvenile Justice’s Central Communications Center of a disturbance involving several youths that had become so volatile that the Bradenton police were called to the 52-bed facility. Various staff members told investigators that the youths were agitated, at times screaming, cursing, jumping up and down, leaping over chairs — and wearing bandanas fashioned from bed linens and T-shirts.
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The youths in the module, “displayed defiant and unruly behavior” toward detention officers and refused to follow instructions, the report said.
“Something [needs] to be done quickly, otherwise someone [is] going to get injured,” a supervisor said over the radio. The supervisor said he didn’t “feel it was safe” for him to restrain the youths in his module, as there were five of them and only two officers — one of whom was a “rookie.”
At 6:34 p.m. the lockup’s superintendent was called in. The log entry stated: “The entire module has been out of control the entire night.”
Photos of the module obtained by the Miami Herald show extensive damage: an overturned couch, toppled file cabinet, dangling light fixtures, missing ceiling tiles, debris everywhere and a bookshelf that appears to have been tossed.
A detention officer told investigators she was in master control when she saw a youth screaming and taking off his shirt. When she went to the unit, she found the detainee confronting an officer “who was not doing or saying much.”
She counseled the youth and returned him to his module, where books were scattered on the floor and other youths were yelling and cursing because they had not yet taken their showers.
The disturbance continued to escalate with the boys kicking on the doors of other youths to get them out of their rooms. “The youths had managed to gain access to potential weapons,” a staffer said, referring to pieces of the ceiling support bars.
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.