The Milton Girls Juvenile Residential Facility has garnered a great deal of attention since an Aug. 9 incident between a client an employee, Shannon Linn Abbott, 33, of Milton.
Now more information on the juvenile facility owned by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and operated by Gulf Coast Youth Services in Fort Walton Beach has come to light.
Gulf Coast Youth Services has managed the facility since Jan. 3, 2002.
Watch a Department of Juvenile Justice video. >>
Their current contract with DJJ is set to expire on Sept. 3, 2014 as they are working on a three-year renewal.
In all the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has paid $35,032,567.80 since the contract started. DJJ has a value of $6.483,689.40 remaining on the current contract.
Nicole Stookey, the Northwest Region Communication Director for the Department of Children and Families, stated there had been 78 investigations at the facility since June 30, 2003. This number does not include the incident where Abbott was arrested and charged with battery.
Stookey said in 76 of those cases there were no indicators of abuse and in the other two cases the allegations were not substantiated.
The Santa Rosa Press Gazette has unsuccessfully attempted to contact Jeff Kaplan, who is the CEO of Gulf Coast Youth Services, for a comment on this story or the status of Abbott's employment.
We have obtained a letter dated Dec. 11 from Laura K. Moneyham, Assistant Secretary of Residential Services for the Department of Juvenile Justice.
In that letter Moneyham wrote, "The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Office of Inspector General has an investigation in process that is temporary suspended pending conclusion of the law enforcement investigation. Given these factors it is our expectation, at the very least, this staff member (Shannon Linn Abbott) will have no contact with youth in any of our programs."
Stookey didn't know if 78 complaints was a high number.
"With facilities like this there do seem to be a higher number of calls," Stookey said. "I haven't compared this to other juvenile facilities, but this happens when a juvenile is placed somewhere they don't want to be.
According to the Gulf Coast Youth Services' website, the Milton Girls Juvenile Residential Facility is a moderate risk, 60-bed commitment program for the Department of Juvenile Justice serving females ages 13-18.
Wednesday, the Department of Juvenile Justice released the video of the incident and DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters commented on the situation further.
"After DJJ was made aware of the incident, our inspector general (IG) investigated and notified local law enforcement. Our investigation remains active," Secretary Walters said. "We are deeply concerned that the incident as depicted in the video we released (Wednesday) in response to a public record request by the (Press Gazette) seriously contradicts its description to us by officials representing the facility.
"We are also troubled that the facility did not officially report the incident to DJJ until two days after it occurred, and only when the victim called the DCF Abuse Hotline. This lapse is inexplicable."
According to Secretary Walters the DJJ sanctioned process - known as protective action response (PAR) - to protect youth and staff was not being followed.
"We subsequently initiated a comprehensive retraining of staff at the facility to ensure that PAR was being property and safely applied and only in situations that warranted it."
Waters stated PAR is the process sanctioned by DJJ to de-escelate conflict in our programs and facilities.
"DJJ emphasizes a restraint-free environment through effective behavior management, including positive, respectful relationships and vigilant, proactive supervision of youth," Secretary Walters said. "Staff is encouraged to intervene before an argument or fight occurs, using verbal intervention to resolved disagreements before physical interventions become necessary."
For the past several years, DJJ has tracked the average PAR rate for physical intervention (including mechanical restraints) in its programs. This rate is a calculation based on the number of incidents and the number of beds in a facility. There has been a steady decrease in PAR rates in residential programs over the past several years. The Fiscal Year (FY) 2011-12 PAR rate decreased nearly 21 percent compared to FY 2010-11; 36 percent from FY 2009-10; and nearly 54 percent from FY 2008-09.
In Abbott's arrest report the victim informed investigators, "I did get an ice pack after this occurred from the nurse and her eye was nearly swollen shut later that same night."
"I waited to call the Child Abuse Hotline the next day because I was told by other girls in the facility it may be worse of me if I called DCF right away," according to Investigator Larry Tynes report."
According to the warrant obtained from the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office, Abbott allegedly is seen in two security camera videos leading the victim with their arms secured - "the defendant's arm was under the victim's arm at the elbow from behind."
Investigators in their report indicate the victim shows no signs of resisting to Abbott.
"The victim is observed not pulling her arms away from the defendant; the victim is not attempting to strike the defendant in any manner and is compliant throughout the entire event."
According to the warrant/arrest report, Abbott is alleged to have stopped the victim facing a wall and is observed repositioning her current grip on the victims arm hold.
"The defendant's forearms are now wrapped around the victim's arms at her elbows with the defendant's hands clinched together and positioned into the middle of the victim's back," stated the report. "After (Abbott) repositions her grip she moved her stance closer to the victim from behind."
According to investigator Larry Tynes' report, the victim was about two feet away from the cement cinder block wall when Abbott allegedly thrusts herself toward the victim in a very forceful manner, using her upper and lower body strength, pushing the victim violently into the cement wall.
Tynes report reiterates prior to this action the victim is observed in a compliant state and is not moving or resisting.
The report stated the victim's chest area and chin bouncing off the wall.
A few seconds later with the victim still against the wall Abbott is reported to be speaking into the victim's left ear.
"Seconds later the defendant stops speaking to the victim and pulls the victim with great force and violently throws the victim to the floor while restraining the victim's arms behind their back."
Abbott is alleged to have landed on top of the victim's back with her full weight.
The report indicated the victim weighs 148 pounds and that Abbott's observed size is much greater than the victim's as depicted in the video.
According to a report submitted by Abbott on Aug. 9, 2012, to the Milton Girls Juvenile Residential Facility Director Carol Andrus, Abbott alleged the victim struggled and hit her with her elbow several times.
Abbott indicated in the Protective Action Response form that she asked the victim to stop and she would strike her harder and resisted to get her arms free.
Investigators in their report indicated this statement by Abbott was not depicted on the video received by the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office.