Saturday, January 20, 2018
Public safety

Detention center suspends 4 employees as hunt for escaped teens continues

TAMPA — A day after two teenage boys escaped from a juvenile detention facility through a hole in a chain-link fence, the private company that oversees security has suspended four of its employees without pay.

In a statement released Monday, a spokeswoman for G4S Youth Services, which manages the facility, said the company had suspended three youth care workers and one shift supervisor after an internal investigation. All worked at the Tampa Residential Facility, a center for "high-risk" male offenders between the ages of 14 and 18 who are committed to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

"While the internal review of the incident is ongoing, our initial investigation raises questions whether proper procedures were followed," Monica Garcia, a spokeswoman for G4S Youth Services, wrote in an email. "We are working with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice on an immediate corrective action plan."

Authorities said 17-year-old Anthony Cook of St. Petersburg and 18-year-old Anthony Bays of Georgia broke out of the facility about 9:20 a.m. Sunday, slipping through a hole cut into the fence surrounding the recreational yard. Both teenagers were serving time on grand theft auto charges and are still the focus of a manhunt led by the sheriff's office.

Guards at the facility didn't realize the teenagers had fled until a head count revealed two were missing. According to the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office version of events, staff at the facility waited until 10:35 a.m. to report the escape.

Neither Garcia nor a spokeswoman for the Department for Juvenile Justice would say what procedures weren't followed, nor would they answer questions about whether the teenagers had help staging their escape.

But in an emailed statement, department spokeswoman Heather DiGiacomo suggested there was concern with the hourlong delay between when guards discovered the teenagers were missing and when they reported the incident to law enforcement.

"It is our expectation that staff put the safety and well-being of youth first and exceed our high expectations for the care of youth in our custody," DiGiacomo wrote.

"This includes calling law enforcement immediately when it is suspected that a youth is hurt, in danger or escaped from a program."

Contact Anna M. Phillips at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips.

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