What was touted as a family-friendly slide show of everyday life at the Walton Youth Development Center initially was to include a peculiar picture: It showed a teen with his head inside a toilet.
A detainee at the program in the Panhandle town of DeFuniak Springs was having a rough time coping with his incarceration in August 2010, and the boy stuck his head inside the toilet bowl. Rather than counsel the young man, Walton’s then-assistant program director decided to shoot a photo and video, and included it in a slide show presentation.
The assistant program director displayed the slide show to other boys at the high-risk 40-bed facility via in-house television, an inspector general report said.
The youth captured in the photo told an investigator he did “not feel [the youth care worker] had malicious intent in taking the photograph or placing it in a presentation,” but the boy was bothered enough to complain to the state’s child abuse hotline. The hotline declared the event was not abuse.
The detainee said “he was going through a stressful time and was looking for attention.” But seeing his head in a toilet broadcast over a closed-circuit television made him feel “dismayed, ridiculed and humiliated,” a report said.
Higher-ranking bosses vetoed the assistant program director’s initial plan to include the photo in a presentation for a broader audience — the parents of detainees — to show them what day-to-day life was like in the program.
The then-assistant director of the program, now operated by a different provider and called Walton Academy for Growth and Change, destroyed the images and was formally counseled.
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.