Guards who responded to riot at juvenile detention center in January were disciplined, judge says

CLEVELAND - County officials on Wednesday announced reforms to the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center and addressed ongoing issues that were highlighted during a riot started by 12 juveniles in January, citing disciplinary actions against the guards who were on duty the night of the riot.

While new changes were announced, questions remain about the actions taken by the county to discipline the staff.

RELATED: Prosecutor says changes need to be made after riot at Juvenile Detention Center

Administrative Judge Kristin W. Sweeney said the officers responding to the riot were disciplined "for failure to step in and tell the kids to behave, to tell them to stop what they are doing."

Sweeny said the guards are "responsible for the behavior of the kids, flat out."

"The kids respond to the interactions they have with the detention officers. That's why they are in the detention center because they need help externally controlling their behavior because if they were able to control their behavior, they wouldn't be in there in the first place," said Sweeney.

Sweeney didn't elaborate on how many officers were disciplined. 

Sweeney said some of the staff were ready to go in, but because of what they were told by leadership, they didn't. 

After the January riot, a guard said staffing was a repeated issue. He said every day is almost chaos and there are limited ways to control bad, out-of-control behavior.

"I watched a kid beat another kid with a crate," said the detention officer who didn't want to be identified because he still works at the center. "There's a black crate that keeps their stuff and I'm like 'stop' and they're not listening to that."

County officials said staffing remains an issue because of the high turnover rate. Out of 120 detention employees, nine positions remain vacant.

"The county administration was very supportive of our need to hire additional officers," Sweeney said. "When we went in front of them several years ago, they gave us funding to hire additional staff because overtime is a huge problem. That's why the ongoing efforts to keep hiring keep going on."

The county initiated the following actions to curb violence and address ongoing problems with staffing and culture between the youth and detention staff:

  • 10 detention officers were hired within the last 60 days and the process to hire more is ongoing.
  • Management and staff have been reassigned, demoted and disciplined as a result of inadequate job performances
  • A nationwide search is underway to fill the director of detention position.
  • The court increased the presence of management supervision on all shifts in the detention center.
  • Newly hired detention officers will go through training at the Tri-C Police Academy.
  • Court wants to expand diversion program availability for low-risk misdemeanor domestic violence youth to avoid them from being admitted to the detention center.
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