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DOJ Secures Settlement With South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice at Detention Center Where Staff Hogtied and Bit Kids

by Brooke Kaufman

On April 14, 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a Settlement Agreement with the federal court for the District of South Carolina that brings to a close a suit against the state Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) over allegations of abuse and excessive use of solitary confinement suffered by children held at Broad River Road Complex (BRRC) in Columbia, the state’s long-term residential facility for juveniles.

“All children held in the custody of the state deserve safe and humane conditions, that can bring about rehabilitation and reform,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who promised that the settlement “will protect children held in [BRRC] from harm and the damaging impact of long-term isolation.”

DOJ began a three-year investigation of BRRC in October 2017, summing up its findings in a report issued the same day that the settlement was filed. It concluded that staff at the facility “engage in a pattern” of conduct, including the use of excessive force, that violates the children’s constitutional rights. DJJ was also given notice in February 2020 that it “fails to protect” children held at BRRC from serious harm, including punitive isolation. Among the shocking allegations arising from the investigation:

• A boy was hog-tied with handcuffs.

• Another boy was put in a chokehold.

• A girl was bitten in the face by a staff member during an altercation.

BRRC employees staged a walk-out over “unsafe” working conditions in June 2021. Former DJJ Director Freddie Pough resigned the following September. The new interim director, Eden Hendrick, called the allegations “horrifying even to think about.”

The agreement stipulates that DJJ must make changes to ensure safety for children being held at BRRC, including revised staffing patterns, increased video surveillance, and a positive behavior management program designed to reduce violence among the youth population. DJJ is also required to limit its use of force or restraint measures and make improvements to its investigation process. The use of isolation is to be restricted to cases where the child poses a serious threat to himself or to others.

DOJ’s complaint was filed under 34 U.S.C. § 1260, which covers incarcerated juveniles. The agency and South Carolina filed a joint motion asking the court to retain jurisdiction over enforcement of the agreement. Accordingly, DJJ’s compliance will be monitored by an independent subject-matter expert who is able to make recommendations to the department.

Corey Ellis, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina, commended DJJ “for its commitment to reforming the state’s juvenile detention facility and protecting children in custody.” See: U.S.A. v. South Carolina Dep’t of Juvenile Justice, USDC (D.S.C.), Case No. 3:22-cv-01221.

No charges were filed over the allegations in the DOJ report. Former Director Pough has since landed a job as an investigator with the state Law Enforcement Division. 

Additional sources: The State, WLTX

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Related legal case

U.S.A. v. South Carolina Dep’t of Juvenile Justice