Riot at juvenile correctional facility near Avon Park triggered by fight over cups of noodles

Posted: August 19, 2013 in News and politics

Debris left over from a riot litters the driveway to the Avon Park Youth
Academy, where a riot occurred on Saturday night.

 

 

AVON PARK | What began with a basketball game and a wager over noodles ended in chaos.

A riot broke out at an all-male Florida Department of Juvenile Justice facility in Avon Park on Saturday night that left 18 buildings damaged and caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

The Avon Park Youth Academy is on 36 acres in unincorporated Polk County at the Avon Park Air Force Range off state Road 64 East.

Officials said 138 boys between 16 and 18 years old were being housed at the academy. None escaped during the commotion.

Seven boys were taken to Florida Hospital in Sebring with mostly minor injuries, including cuts, bruises and a concussion.

A boy who sustained a broken leg was still recovering at the hospital Sunday, but the other six were released. The Sheriff’s Office said all of the injuries came as the boys fought or caused damage, not as they were being taken into custody.

The facility is maintained by the state Department of Juvenile Justice but the security employees are contracted through G4S, a private security company headquartered in Jupiter. By rule at the facility, none of the security personnel are allowed to carry any specialty equipment like pepper spray, according to the DJJ.

The academy doesn’t have security cameras, but the Sheriff’s Office was able to outline the events that led to the riot by talking with witnesses.

About 8:30 p.m. Saturday, a group of five boys from St. Petersburg and a group of five boys from Orlando wagered three Cup O’ Noodles soups on a basketball game. The team from St. Petersburg lost the game but then refused to pay. A fight broke out between the teams and other boys joined the conflict as it escalated into a riot, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Once the fight grew, G4S employees called 911. The Sheriff’s Office responded to the call about 8:40 p.m. and set up a perimeter around the property.

K-9, SWAT and air support units responded as well as officers from the Department of Corrections, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Florida Highway Patrol, and the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office and fire department.

The entire staff at the facility was evacuated once law enforcement arrived. The rioters were subdued and restrained with plastic handcuffs as more than 150 law enforcement officers arrived at the academy.

The damage was done though. Clothes and trash littered the streets of the complex, windows were smashed out, and the medical center was raided in an apparent search for drugs, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Computers and refrigerators were turned into ruins.

An office building that housed juvenile records was set on fire during the riot. Meghan Speakes Collins, communications director for the DJJ, said Sunday the department is still unsure about the condition of the records. They will begin their investigation today.

“We haven’t had the opportunity to fully get into the property to fully assess the damage,” she said.

The Sheriff’s Office was still investigating the property as a crime scene on Sunday.

Boys placed in the academy “must be assessed as being unlikely to return home or to public school upon release, and must not have any significant mental health or substance abuse problems,” according to the academy website. They usually stay about 270 days and are taught vocational skills such as plumbing, culinary arts and carpentry.

Of the 138 boys, 64 are now being housed at Polk County’s South County Jail near Frostproof under the supervision of G4S employees. They are completely separated from adult inmates at the jail. The other 73 boys are staying at the academy.

The 64 being housed at the jail are being assessed to determine whether “Avon Park Youth Academy is the most appropriate setting” for them to be housed, according to the DJJ.

Collins said that this was the first conflict of this scale at the academy, which opened in July 2003. She said it is one of the largest juvenile justice facilities in the state.

The Sheriff’s Office said it was investigating Sunday to determine which of the boys will be charged in relation to the riot.

[ Miles Parks can be reached at miles.parks@theledger.com or 863-802-7516. ]

<!–AVON PARK | What began with a basketball game and a wager over noodles ended in chaos. A riot broke out at an all-male Florida Department of Juvenile Justice facility in Avon Park on Saturday night that left 18 buildings damaged and caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office. The Avon Park Youth Academy is on 36 acres in unincorporated Polk County at the Avon Park Air Force Range off state Road 64 East. Officials said 138 boys between 16 and 18 years old were being housed at the academy. None escaped during the commotion. Seven boys were taken to Florida Hospital in Sebring with mostly minor injuries, including cuts, bruises and a concussion. A boy who sustained a broken leg was still recovering at the hospital Sunday, but the other six were released. The Sheriff's Office said all of the injuries came as the boys fought or caused damage, not as they were being taken into custody. The facility is maintained by the state Department of Juvenile Justice but the security employees are contracted through G4S, a private security company headquartered in Jupiter. By rule at the facility, none of the security personnel are allowed to carry any specialty equipment like pepper spray, according to the DJJ. The academy doesn't have security cameras, but the Sheriff's Office was able to outline the events that led to the riot by talking with witnesses. About 8:30 p.m. Saturday, a group of five boys from St. Petersburg and a group of five boys from Orlando wagered three Cup O' Noodles soups on a basketball game. The team from St. Petersburg lost the game but then refused to pay. A fight broke out between the teams and other boys joined the conflict as it escalated into a riot, according to the Sheriff's Office. Once the fight grew, G4S employees called 911. The Sheriff's Office responded to the call about 8:40 p.m. and set up a perimeter around the property. K-9, SWAT and air support units responded as well as officers from the Department of Corrections, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Florida Highway Patrol, and the Highlands County Sheriff's Office and fire department. The entire staff at the facility was evacuated once law enforcement arrived. The rioters were subdued and restrained with plastic handcuffs as more than 150 law enforcement officers arrived at the academy. The damage was done though. Clothes and trash littered the streets of the complex, windows were smashed out, and the medical center was raided in an apparent search for drugs, according to the Sheriff's Office. Computers and refrigerators were turned into ruins. An office building that housed juvenile records was set on fire during the riot. Meghan Speakes Collins, communications director for the DJJ, said Sunday the department is still unsure about the condition of the records. They will begin their investigation today. "We haven't had the opportunity to fully get into the property to fully assess the damage," she said. The Sheriff's Office was still investigating the property as a crime scene on Sunday. Boys placed in the academy "must be assessed as being unlikely to return home or to public school upon release, and must not have any significant mental health or substance abuse problems," according to the academy website. They usually stay about 270 days and are taught vocational skills such as plumbing, culinary arts and carpentry. Of the 138 boys, 64 are now being housed at Polk County's South County Jail near Frostproof under the supervision of G4S employees. They are completely separated from adult inmates at the jail. The other 73 boys are staying at the academy. The 64 being housed at the jail are being assessed to determine whether "Avon Park Youth Academy is the most appropriate setting" for them to be housed, according to the DJJ. Collins said that this was the first conflict of this scale at the academy, which opened in July 2003. She said it is one of the largest juvenile justice facilities in the state. The Sheriff's Office said it was investigating Sunday to determine which of the boys will be charged in relation to the riot.

[ Miles Parks can be reached at miles.parks@theledger.com or 863-802-7516. ]

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