CRESTVIEW — An investigation is underway at the Department of Juvenile Justice’s Okaloosa Youth Academy after a Panama City teenager was seriously injured last week in an incident with an employee.
According to the 15-year-old’s mother, a video camera at the facility recorded her son “being thrown into a stainless steel table.”
Tonya Hazel said her son complained of pain after the incident, but wasn’t taken to the emergency room until about two hours later.
When he arrived, his organs were swollen and blood was filling his abdomen. His right kidney was split and ultimately removed, she said.
He was initially taken to North Okaloosa Medical Center, but was later transferred to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola where he remained in stable, but critical condition Monday, Hazel said.
“My thing is the employee should have been able to hold his professional cool,” she said. “... But he lost it on my son and damn near killed him.”
DJJ Communications Director Heather DiGiacomo released an emailed statement about the incident Monday evening. She stated, “DJJ’s top priority is the safety and welfare of the youth entrusted in our care.”
DiGiacomo confirmed a youth was injured in an incident Dec. 29 at the facility in Crestview, but did not release any additional information including the person’s gender or age.
“The incident is currently being investigated by the Department’s Office of Inspector General,” DiGiacomo stated. “The staff member involved has been removed from all contact with youth pending the completion of the investigation.”
Hazel said her son, who has a history of behavior problems and mental illness, was not given his medication the day of the incident and was “displaying a behavior” just before it took place.
The Panama City resident has been at Okaloosa Youth Academy for about ten months. He’d recently gone before a judge and received commendations for his good behavior, Hazel said.
He was slated to be released in February, she added.
According to DJJ’s website, the facility is a 38-bed center for youth “pending adjudication, disposition or placement in a commitment facility.”
Hazel said an administrator from the academy has remained in contact with her since they arrived in Pensacola last week. He even visited her son on Saturday.
She also said an investigator from DJJ had come in and spoken with them.
While no charges have been filed against the employee accused in the incident, Hazel said she wanted to see him held accountable for what he had done to her son.
“Long term, it’s just going to change his whole life, and he’s only 15,” Hazel said of his kidney loss. “I’m just thanking God he’s still alive.”