Riot ends at Avon Park Youth Academy in Polk County

9:13 AM, Aug 19, 2013   |    comments
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Video: Sheriff: Staff not equipped to handle riot at youth center


AVON PARK, Florida - Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said the staff at a juvenile detention facility was not equipped to handle a riot that broke out on Saturday night.

The Polk Sheriff's Office said the fight broke out just after a basketball game between two groups of juvenile delinquents around 8:30 p.m.

A group of teens from St. Petersburg were playing against a group from Orlando, and a wager of three Cup O'Noodles soups was to be awarded to the winner.

The losing team, the group from St. Pete, refused to pay and a fight broke out between the two groups. Other teens not playing basketball joined the fray, and a riot broke out.

Workers at the facility, which is maintained by the Department of Juvenile Justice and employs a private security contractor, called 911 and Polk deputies responded to assist in securing the area.

"For about 20 or 30 minutes, the staff -- and there were 19 staff members on the campus -- tried to deal with the deteriorating circumstance," said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

By rule, the security employees are not allowed to have any specialty equipment, including pepper spray, which deputies believe would have allowed them to deal with the fight before it escalated into a riot.

"It's obvious they weren't allowed to have the proper equipment to defuse the situation early on," said the sheriff.

Officials say at least 18 of the 20 buildings were destroyed during the riot, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. One building, which housed the teens' records, was set on fire, along with a Dumpster. Polk firefighters were able to extinguish both fires without incident.

Sixty-four juveniles were taken to the PCSO South County Jail in Frostproof, where they are separated from the adult inmate population. Seventy-three others remain secured at the Avon Park Youth Academy. One teen who broke his leg remains in the hospital.

Parents who heard about the incident on the news rushed to the facility to check on their children.

"I sobbed. I really actually physically fell down and sobbed. I thought is my kid alright? Is he alive? Is he dead?" said Jill Elkington, whose son is housed at Avon Park Youth Academy.

Polk detectives are conducting an investigation into which of the delinquents will be charged with multiple felonies. The investigation is ongoing.

Investigators say there is no video surveillance of the riot, and no security cameras are at the facility.

Avon Park Youth Academy is a moderate risk residential program that houses up to 200 males, from ages 16 to 18, for an average of 270 days and is overseen by the Department of Juvenile Justice.


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