Workers said the boy threw what amounted to a tantrum in the day room of Gulf Academy on May 13, 2012, slamming a door, screaming profanities and attempting to fight his roommate.
Two staffers — a shift manager and youth care worker — took him down in an unauthorized restraint, with one of them pulling the boy’s legs from underneath him, pinning and breaking his arm. The bone break resounded so loudly that some of the other youths in the room heard it snap. One youth’s description: The boy’s left arm was folded back like “a chicken wing.”
Just before the takedown, an inspector general report said, the shift manager is seen on video “pushing [the] youth into a corner of the dayroom that appears to be unlit” and partially obstructed from camera view.
The shift manager said the youth had “caused a serious disruption on the unit by slamming the door to his room, yelling out profanities and attempting to fight his roommate.” He refused orders to calm down, and instead became more combative, ultimately pushing the shift manager on his chest with both hands. When the manager began an unspecified “control technique,” the youth continued to struggle. That’s what led to the “team takedown,” a restraint report said.
The boy’s version, according to an inspector general report: He accidentally slammed the room door and was walking to the bathroom when the shift manager ordered him back to his room. He said the staffer pushed him first, and so he pushed back. The youth said a second staffer, the youth care worker, pushed his arm so hard it felt like it was going to snap. He told the worker his arm was about to break. The worker replied: “So?” The worker, he said, pulled his leg out from under him, and he fell. That may have been when his arm went limp.
Another youth told an investigator the boy’s arm was pulled all the way up to his neck “in a chicken wing.” The witness said the youth “was in pain and yelling for [the worker] to stop.”
An X-ray showed the youth’s arm had completely snapped above the elbow, and had been twisted out of alignment.
Investigators, who interviewed 20 other youths and reviewed video, sustained the allegations of excessive force.
Gulf Academy’s internal investigation recommended that the two be fired, along with other corrective actions, including a staff refresher in de-escalation training. It also suggested that physical interventions be within camera view and that lights remain on at all times so surveillance video can be used later.
Two days after the incident, the shift manager resigned. The youth worker was fired.
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.