Youth worker Antoine Davis saw it all, authorities say, when four detainees sexually assaulted a peer with a shampoo bottle at a Panhandle mental health treatment center. What he did afterward helps explain why he, too, was charged with lewd and lascivious battery: He exchanged a celebratory “high five” with one of the attackers.
Details of the alleged sexual assault earlier this month at the Walton Academy for Growth and Change are contained in a batch of records released to the Miami Herald Thursday by state juvenile justice administrators, in addition to other records produced by Walton County detectives earlier. The reports say Davis appears to have set the assault in motion, encouraged the attackers, and later dismissed the incident as mere horseplay.
Much of the attack — though not all — was recorded on surveillance video, which administrators have declined to publicly release.
According to the records, Davis wasn’t done tormenting the victim of the sex assault, who at 15 was younger than all his attackers. Thirteen minutes after the abortive sexual assault concluded, the staffer slammed the boy onto a table in what has been termed a separate instance of excessive force.
The July 5 incident at the mental health and substance abuse treatment center is the most recent case in which a Florida detention officer or youth worker was implicated in a scheme to recruit juvenile offenders to rough up other teens. In April, an officer at the Miami lockup was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of violating the civil rights of a 17-year-old, who was beaten to death by a mob after he mouthed off to the officer, Antwan Johnson.
The Miami Herald reported in October that such practices had flourished throughout the state for perhaps a decade. The series, called Fight Club, detailed how detention center officers and youth workers offered honey buns, fast food hamburgers, Chinese takeout and even sneakers as rewards to enforcers willing to dispense discipline on behalf of workers who were afraid of getting their hands dirty. Department of Juvenile Justice administrators told the Herald they condemned the practice, but denied they were aware it was occurring — though agency records often documented it.
Davis, 27, was charged by the Walton County Sheriff’s Office on July 12 with lewd and lascivious battery, false imprisonment and battery. He remains at the Walton County Jail.
Administrators at DJJ, which contracts with a private company, Rite of Passage, to operate the DeFuniak Springs treatment center, declined to discuss the incident, saying it is under investigation by the agency’s Inspector General. The agency issued a brief statement.
DJJ’s “top priority is the safety and well-being of the youth in our care,” Secretary Christina K. Daly said. “DJJ has zero tolerance for sexual assault or abuse, and the actions taken by this former contracted staff person are reprehensible and will not be tolerated by any staff person entrusted with caring for the youth in our programs.”
Daly said IG investigators are looking into the reported sexual assault, as well as “any contributing factors related to the incident.”
When agency investigators arrived at the Walton Academy to look into the attack, they learned that the unit where the youth was assaulted had been understaffed at the time. Davis, records show, was overseeing 10 detainees in what is called the “Wildcat/Bulldog” dayroom. He should not have been responsible for more than eight youths.
Davis had been hired by the Walton Academy on May 24, a DJJ spokeswoman said, and his agency record includes only the July 5 incident. State law enforcement records show Davis had been arrested in October 2011 by the Crestview Police Department on charges of selling cocaine. The charges later were dropped, and therefore would not have automatically disqualified him from working with juvenile offenders.
Davis was fired after the July incident was reported.
Records released to the Herald by DJJ Thursday shed little light on what may have precipitated the attempted sexual assault at about 12:20 p.m. on July 5. Police reports also offer no clues.
Davis’ arrest report by the Walton County Sheriff’s Office said the assault began when Davis unlocked a cell door and then walked away, leaving the room open and unsupervised, in violation of policy. Video shows Davis walking over to a separate hallway to use a restroom.
— Walton Co. Sheriff (@WCSOFL)July 13, 2018
The 15-year-old was sitting on a couch in a common area watching television, the police report said, when two youths picked him up and “forcefully” carried him into the empty cell. There, all four assailants — three 17-year-olds and a 16-year-old —“forced the victim onto a bed, face down, and proceeded to try to penetrate” the youth with a travel-size bottle of Pert shampoo.
“Mr. Davis can be seen standing in the doorway of the cells watching as the incident unfolds,” the police report said. “Mr. Davis stands in the doorway for roughly one-to-two minutes talking with other juveniles and even appears to be laughing while the victim is being assaulted inside the cell.” The 15-year-old freed himself from the four assailants, and was seen on video pulling his pants up as he walked out of the cell.
A witness who came forward later told police he heard Davis tell the attackers to “stick something up his a--,” as the 15-year-old was pinned to a bed.
The victim became upset after the assault, police said, and began throwing things around the program’s common area. Davis sat down at a card table and began writing a report on the teen for misbehavior. The teen then snatched the discipline report from Davis, who then was captured on video shoving the teen onto a nearby table. Video showed one of the alleged attackers “shaking [Davis’] hand as if approving of the incident.”
DJJ’s incident report said Davis “used an improper technique to place youth [on] a table top.” The report doesn’t specify in what way the takedown was improper, though DJJ described it as a case of “excessive force.”
Davis told police he did not witness any sexual assault and that the four attackers “were just horse playing.” When confronted with surveillance video, Davis said he “could not recall why he was laughing while the victim was in the cell with the co-defendants,” the police report said.
Four juveniles and one employee have been arrested following a sexual assault at a contracted Department of Juvenile Justice Facility in Walton County.