BARTOW — The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit Wednesday outlining abuses against juveniles who are housed in the Polk County Jail. Among the allegations is the placing of teens who threaten suicide into cages with little clothing.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd on Wednesday afternoon called the allegations false.
The federal class-action civil rights lawsuit filed at the U.S. District Court in Tampa lists Judd and two Polk County Sheriff's Office employees as the main defendants. The plaintiffs are the guardians of seven Polk teens who are in the Polk County Jail.
Two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit said they were placed on suicide watch and left in cages without receiving counseling or talking with a psychologist.
Judd said the allegations are erroneous. "It's so outrageous," he said. "It's probably the most outrageous lawsuit that we have seen."
Tania Galloni, the managing lawyer for the law center, said during a news conference in Tampa that the detention deputies aren't diligently overseeing juveniles.
"These children are left to fend for themselves," she said.
The Sheriff's Office always has used the jail to house juveniles charged as adults. However, all juveniles were moved to the jail in October after the passage of SB 2112, which allowed Florida counties to take over the centers.
Juveniles previously were held by the state in a separate facility under regulations set by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.
Judd urged state Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, to sponsor the bill last year.
Juveniles are housed in a wing within the Polk County Jail separated from adults, Judd said.
Lisa Jobe, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said that her 15-year-old son has been in jail since October
Jobe said her son was briefly in the juvenile detention center in Polk when it was run by the state and has seen a difference in the two facilities.
Jobe said her son is in constant fear and has lost 15 pounds.
"I want the children to be treated like children," she said. "We're scared for him every day."
According to the state, Polk and Marion are the only counties that have taken over juvenile detention centers from the state.