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Florida's Juvenile Justice: Convicted Sex Offender Rapes Disabled Youth in His Care

Once again, Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is under close scrutiny for failing to protect a severely mentally disabled teenager from sexual abuse.

At the center of this scandal is Robert, an orphan with the mind of an infant. The 15-year-old wears diapers and plays with blocks. Guards at Robert's Tallahassee juvenile detention center were unable to care for him. Their solution: They assigned 17-year-old Lee Donton to bathe, clothe, and change Robert's diaper. The problem: Donton was in the center for a 2004 rape conviction. He now faces two new counts of raping Robert.

Robert's problems began in 2000 when his mother became terminally ill. After she died in February 2, 2004, Robert became increasingly aggressive toward his elderly grandmother and aunt. At 300 pounds, Robert was understandably difficult to handle. Between December 2004 and May 2005, Robert had been charged four times with battery on a person 65 or older.

In May, 2005, Judge William Gary ordered Robert indefinitely detained. His care needs are more than our staff are trained to provide, a mental health counselor told Judge Gary.

On June 16, Tony Threalts, a lock-up supervisor, sent an e-mail to the superintendent and assistant superintendent that advised, I was made aware by one of my staff yesterday that youth Lee Donton, a sexual offender, is being allowed to shower and/or change [Robert's] diaper during the 7-3 shift and it was common practice and all staff, including the lieutenant, were made aware of it. It was reported that the lieutenant was questioned by a staff member and the response was, "We have bigger things to worry about right now."

A public report says that two different detainees told police they saw Donton in the act of having sex with Robert in his cell. One of the youths told staff members, who got to the cell in time to observe Donton with his jumper half on, half off...and...sweating and nervous. One of the teens told police he saw one of the guards with the suspect's boxer shorts, walking down the hall carrying them like there was something on them. The report says no such evidence was ever recovered.

Since Robert's abuse was reported to police and a Department of Children & Families (DCF) child abuse hotline, DJJ has gone into cover-up mode. Videotapes are missing of the cell area. Once again, said Rep. Gustavo Gus Barreiro, a Miami Republican, the only tapes that were missing are the tapes that can prove these allegations.

By the summer of 2005, Robert had been in contact with three state agencies: DJJ, DCF, and the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. Clearly, the system has failed this young man, said John Hall, a statewide director for the Association for Retarded Citizens in Tallahassee. Shame on everybody involved.

It is a sad commentary on the state of Florida that its only solution to meet the needs of a severely mentally disabled child is to imprison him because it lacks the resources to provide treatment and care for him outside of prison and in prison is woefully incapable of doing so.

Source: Miami Herald

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