According to the county Probation Department, the unidentified “young adult was found dead… at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall” in Sylmar.
“Our nursing staff immediately administered emergency services, including the use of (anti-overdose medication) Narcan,” according to a statement from Guillermo Viera Rosa, chief strategist for juvenile operations for the Probation Department. “We have notified the family and will cooperate fully with law enforcement on a thorough investigation of the incident. We have also dispatched peer support personnel and mental health professionals to the facility for crisis counseling of youth and our staff. In the meantime, I want to convey our most profound condolences to the youth’s family.”
No details about the youth who died were released. The Los Angeles Times, which first reported the death, reported that the teen was no older than 18. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger issued a statement calling the death “devastating and inexcusable.”
“Being under the county’s supervision should translate into having safe and compassionate care but we are falling short,” Barger said. “I’ve been a proponent of making big changes — including appointing an outside expert strategist that reports directly to our board to turn around the department’s juvenile operations — but tragically the changes didn’t come soon enough.”
Barger continued: “I want a thorough and expedient investigation to understand all the facts about this young man’s death. There are still a lot of unanswered questions. To be clear, this isn’t going to be a blame game. This needs to be about transparency and accountability so this terrible tragedy does not happen again.”
The president of the L.A. County Deputy Probation Officers’ Union, pushed back, saying the county has frozen hiring of probation officers, creating a “critical staffing shortage,” and failed to move forward with renovations of juvenile halls.
“There are currently more than 1,000 vacancies in the L.A. County Probation Department due to the Board of Supervisors’ hiring freeze, and while the supervisors have authorized major refurbishment to their own building downtown and construction work is ongoing, the juvenile halls, and the safety systems in the facilities, are in critical disrepair with no refurbishments in 10+ years,” Hans Liang said in a statement.
“The officers assigned to these facilities are doing the best they can with very limited resources and constant criticism from the supervisors and their surrogates — working 18- to 24-hour shifts, facing daily assaults by youth leading to 40% of the division being out on injury leave, and more. The officers did everything in their power to revive the youth, including applying CPR and administering Narcan,” Liang’s statement continued.
The death came on the day county attorneys appeared in court in response to allegations by state prosecutors that conditions in the facilities were “appalling.”
Last month, state Attorney General Rob Bonta slammed the condition of the juvenile halls and filed court papers seeking to force the county to immediately remedy “illegal and unsafe” conditions. The motion filed in Los Angeles Superior Court asks for an order requiring the county to comply with a 2021 judgment ordering improvements in conditions at juvenile halls, including improved staffing levels and ensuring that youth in the county’s care are taken to school and medical appointments.
A hearing on that motion was held Tuesday morning. In a tentative ruling, Judge Michael Lindfield noted that neither the state nor the county dispute that the juvenile halls “do not meet the conditions set forth” in the 2021 judgment. The judge noted that the county “has offered various reasons for its failure to comply with the stipulated judgment.”
“While some of these reasons may be legitimate, they are of small comfort to those children who are currently not receiving adequate care in our juvenile facilities,” Lindfield wrote.
Linfield’s tentative ruling called for officials from the county and the state Attorney General’s Office to meet in the coming weeks and lay out proposed deadlines for complying with the judgment, with another court hearing tentatively set for June 20 to determine the next steps. The state Board of State and Community Corrections has been considering possibly ordering the shutdown of the county’s juvenile halls altogether due to lack of compliance with state regulations. The board declined to do so at its meeting last month, but another hearing is set for May 23.
A recent county Inspector General report also expressed concern about the spread of the opioid fentanyl in county juvenile facilities, pointing to two recent cases of detainees being treated for possible overdoses.
The county’s juvenile halls have been under intense scrutiny in recent months. Last week, the county Board of Supervisors OK’d a sweeping plan for reorganizing the juvenile detention system. The plan included a relocation of most detainees, upgrades to most facilities and asking the sheriff’s department to deploy volunteer reserve deputies to help fill holes in staffing.
Under the plan approved by the board, the Probation Department will reopen the previously shuttered Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey and move all “predisposition” youth to that facility. Central Juvenile Hall in Lincoln Heights will operate as a law enforcement intake unit and medical and diagnostic/assessment hub, while Nidorf Hall will serve solely as a Secure Youth Treatment Facility aimed at providing a more rehabilitative atmosphere for youth committed by a court to juvenile detention.
The Board of Supervisors previously voted to advance a “Global Plan” for the placement and care of juvenile detainees, with a goal of reducing the overall number of juveniles in custody and development of additional Secure Youth Treatment Facilities to provide a more supportive environment for detained youth.
In March of last year, about 140 juvenile detainees were hastily transferred from Central Juvenile Hall to Nidorf Hall — a move that the county inspector general later concluded was orchestrated to avert a state inspection that appeared likely to fail.
Late last year, nearly 300 boys and girls filed a lawsuit alleging they were sexually assaulted, harassed and abused by county probation and detention officers while being held at juvenile facilities dating back to the 1970s. County CEO Fesia Davenport noted while releasing her recent budget proposal for the coming year that the county could potentially face liabilities reaching $3 billion from such abuse claims.
In March, the Board of Supervisors fired Probation Department Chief Adofo Gonzales, with board Chair Janice Hahn noting that the juvenile halls “are in crisis.” Karen Fletcher, the interim probation chief, said she plans to retire on May 19.
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