Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd announced Friday that 61 youths face charges related to an August “riot” at a detention facility.
Judd also reiterated his stance that the incident could have been prevented had the private security personnel hired by the state had tools such as pepper spray — a view not shared by the secretary of the Juvenile Justice Department.
“The injuries, estimated $350,000 of damage to the facility, cost of the law enforcement response, and the multiple charges and costs to the criminal justice system all could have been avoided,” Judd said.
Charges against the youths include rioting, introduction of contraband, grand theft, burglary, felony criminal mischief, petit theft, tampering with a coin-operating device and theft of a controlled substance. Three will also face arson charges, Judd said.
Judd also noted that youths involved had previously been charged with a total of 919 crimes, including 424 felonies.
“These 61 aren't misguided children,” he said. “These 61 are hard-core thugs that were incarcerated by the Department of Juvenile Justice.”
Nine of the youths charged in the incident were from Pinellas County, five from Polk, and two each from Hillsborough and Manatee.
The alternation took place the night of Aug. 17 at the Avon Park Youth Academy in unincorporated Polk County. It was started by youths over a basketball game wager involving three packages of Ramen noodle soup, deputies said. When the losing team refused to pay up, the teens began fighting, investigators said. Other youths in the facility soon joined the fracas, investigators said.
The academy staff, which works for G4S, a private firm contracted by the state, was unable to control the situation and called 911. More than 150 law enforcement personnel from several agencies, including the Polk County Sheriff's Office, responded with riot gear, tear gas and pepper spray.
Seven juveniles were taken to a hospital with minor injuries.
Deputies said nearly half the juveniles had to be taken temporarily to the nearby Polk South County Jail. Rioters pulled fire alarms, confiscated staff golf carts and set fire to a building containing the teens' records and a trash bin, the sheriff's office said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Juvenile justice said most of the academy's 20 buildings were damaged in the incident.
At the time, Judd harshly criticized state rules that prohibit the G4S personnel from using pepper spray and other security equipment.
After a tour of the facility, Wansley Walters, the secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, disagreed and stopped short of calling the incident a riot, referring to the damage as vandalism.
“It is not the best practice of Juvenile Justice to provide pepper spray or Tasers,” she said.
Judd has said he planned to bill the state for his office's costs.