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$240,000 Settlement in Florida Juvenile Boot Camp Suicide

Although described as a troubled kid, 16-year old Chad Franza didn't deserve to die they way he did. Only 24 days after entering a juvenile boot camp in Bartow, Florida, the teenager was found dead after hanging himself with his boot laces in 1998. Now Franza's parents have agreed to settle their lawsuit against several Florida agencies they say were responsible for the wrongful death of their son. In October 2002, the parents agreed to the final in a series of settlements worth a total of $240,000.

Named in the parents' suit were the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Polk County Sheriff Lawrence Crow, and EMSA Correctional Care Inc., which had contracted to provide physical and mental health care services for the boot camp.

Franza's troubles began in October 1997 when he was found with a knife on school grounds. His father had given him the knife for his birthday to be used for hunting and fishing, according to his father. "He wasn't going to use it to hurt anybody." Three weeks later, Franza was charged with retaliating against a witness. Franza entered in a diversion program, but later was found with a gun. For that offense he was placed under community control, which essentially meant house arrest.

In February 1998, Franza broke the terms of his community control by trespassing on school grounds. He was then sent to the Avon Park day treatment center, and then on to the boot camp.

Upon entering the boot camp, Franza's parents, both of whom are employed by the Florida Department of Corrections, told workers there the boy was suicidal, threatening to kill himself more than once. But Franza was never placed on close watch or scheduled for a suicide risk assessment.

The parents' lawsuit alleged that boot camp workers failed to complete an entire section of documents on Franza's suicidal tendencies, failed to recognize his problem, failed to check his room regularly and restricted contact between Franza and his parents

According to reports, on June 12, 1998 Franza's mother, Mylinda Franza, told a juvenile justice administrator about her son's suicide attempts and the administrator told Mylinda, "That's normal." In addition, only hours before Franza took his life, his parents had stopped by the boot camp to see their son, but "They wouldn't let us," said Franza's father.

That made the contents of Franza's suicide note all the more chilling: "I've tried to bear with where I'm at, hoping it will get easier (than) what it has been. It does not look like it will," wrote Franza. "I cannot bear being locked up and not at home. I can't go this long without seeing any of my family members."

The defendants in the suit, according to Diane Hirth, a spokeswoman for the juvenile justice agency, have all officially denied any responsibility for Franza's death. Hirth also said Florida is trying to improve its mental health treatment of juveniles, noting that in 1999 only one of 24 juveniles received mental health treatment while the ratio in 2002 was one of every 3.6.

Despite the denials of responsibility, however, the Department of Juvenile Justice and EMSA Correctional Care agreed to pay the Franza family $100,000 each, according to family lawyer Howard Kay. Polk County Commissioners later agreed to approve the county's $40,000 portion of the settlement.

Polk County attorney Hank Campbell agreed that Franza never should have been sent to the boot camp after threatening suicide. "He was a troubled kid, but he was a far cry from a hardened criminal," said Kay. "He did not deserve the death penalty."

Readers should refer to the September 2002 edition of PLN for additional information on boot camps.

Sources: Tallahassee Democrat, Guardian Unlimited

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