The Walton Academy for Growth and Change is supposed to provide a “secure residential treatment program for males, ages 13 to 18,” according to law enforcement in the Florida Panhandle town.
But the DeFuniak Springs facility, which is run by a company called Rite of Passage for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, was the site of a sexual attack and battery on a 15-year-old boy on July 5. The incident led to an investigation and the arrests of four juveniles and one adult employee, who was accused of facilitating the assault.
DJJ lockups and programs have seen a series of attacks — some of them carried out or encouraged by staff — on youths in their care. In April, Antwan Lenard Johnson, a detention officer at Miami-Dade’s juvenile lockup, was indicted on a civil rights violation after the death of Elord Revolte, who was punched and kicked by a dozen detainees, allegedly at Johnson’s urging. The 17-year-old died the following day.
A Miami Herald series, Fight Club, documented the beatings, often called “honey-bunnings,” after the vending machine treats that are offered as rewards.
According to the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, which was contacted by the DJJ after Rite of Passage alerted DJJ about the incident, the 15-year-old was grabbed off a couch by two juveniles at the facility — identified in arrest reports as Walter Harvey, 16, of Winter Haven, and Brian Burton, 17, of West Park.
Harvey and Burton dragged the teen down a hallway into another dorm room where two other juveniles — Berkley Bell, 17, of Daytona Beach, and DeQuan Myers, 17, of Tampa — held him face down on a bed and pulled his pants down as Bell tried to penetrate the boy with a travel-size Pert shampoo bottle, according to the reports.
The incident was captured on surveillance video and corroborated by witnesses, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office said.
The four juveniles were arrested and charged on July 6 with lewd and lascivious battery to a victim 12 to 16 years old, and false imprisonment.
“The clinical director of the facility advised deputies a victim had been sexually assaulted by several other juveniles. It was later discovered an employee watched and appeared to be laughing while the incident took place,” Walton County Sheriff’s Office said in a post on its Facebook page.
The department’s investigation led to the arrest of Walton Academy employee Antoine Travell Davis, 27, of Crestview.
Davis, detectives say, was seen on surveillance video unlocking the cell doors where the attack took place and leaving the scene — a violation of Walton Academy policy.
After the victim was dragged into the room and the assault began, Davis reappears and can be seen while standing in the doorway as he watches the attack, according to deputies.
“Davis stands in the doorway for roughly one to two minutes talking with other juveniles who had gathered and appears to be laughing while the victim was being assaulted inside the cell,” the Walton County Sheriff’s report, posted to its website, read.
After the juveniles’ assault on the teen, Davis reportedly got into an altercation with the victim in which he is accused of grabbing him by his shirt and shoving him onto an adjacent table.
On Thursday, Davis was arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious battery and promoting sexual activity on a victim less than 16, false imprisonment and battery.
“This is extremely concerning to us — first and foremost for the safety and well-being of the victim,” Walton County Sherrif Michael Adkinson Jr. told the Miami Herald Saturday. “We spoke to DJJ Secretary Christina Daly about this, and other issues of the facility, and she is aware and working closely with us to resolve this and to try and bring the situation to justice.”
Fight Club examined 10 years of juvenile justice records that documented widespread brutality, sexual exploitation, medical neglect, administrative incompetence and a culture in which juvenile detainees are encouraged to dispense beatings to their peers.
After the Walton County arrests, the Florida DJJ released a statement that read, in part: “DJJ does not tolerate this type of behavior and the contracted staff person involved in the incident has been terminated. Their actions are inexcusable and it is our expectation that they be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
In its statement, DJJ commended the Walton County Sheriff’s Office and said the department would continue working together with the deputies as the investigation continues.