Violent sexual assault alleged during riot at Adair County’s juvenile detention center

An employee was also severely beaten by at least one teenage detainee.
Published: Nov. 16, 2022 at 11:40 AM EST
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COLUMBIA, Ky. (WAVE) - A teenage girl was allegedly violently sexually assaulted during a riot at the juvenile detention center in Adair County, WAVE News Troubleshooters have learned.

An employee was also severely beaten by at least one teenage detainee who had escaped from their cell Friday night, along with several others. That employee was flown to the hospital because of his injuries, according to an editor with the Adair County Community Voice who saw the man being airlifted.

Employees, speaking off the record, described the riot as pure “chaos.”

“And this girl will never recover,” Nina Burton, a former nursing supervisor at the facility said. “I mean, she will fight this the rest of her life, and you feel like you’re in a safe facility, You have guards watching you, nobody can get to you, and then that happened to you? That’s devastating.”

A spokesperson with the state’s Justice Cabinet said they have called Kentucky State Police to open a case.

“KSP is investigating a sexual assault allegation that allegedly occurred on Friday evening after a juvenile seriously assaulted a staff member, confiscated the staff member’s keys and released other juveniles from their cells at Adair Regional Detention Center,” said Morgan Hall, the communications director, in a statement.

Hall added, “The alleged victim was housed in a separate secure wing with females only.” However, sources close to the event told WAVE News that is not true. We are working to confirm where the teen was housed and if other female detainees were being held in the same units as males.

“Several staff and juveniles were injured during the incident and transported to the hospital for treatment,” KSP said in their own media release.

Several employees said the state should have seen this coming. They claim the leadership at the Adair County Youth Development Center and at the Department of Juvenile Justice, chose to sweep the problems under the rug.

“They lie,” Joanne Alvarado, a former registered nurse at the facility said. “All they do is lie.”

She is one of three nurses interviewed who quit because of the conditions at the center they consider abusive, cruel and criminal.

“The reason I left was, they didn’t feed one inmate for three days,” Beth Johnson said. “For three days they did not feed him. And I actually heard someone say to him, ‘And I won’t feed you until you learn how to stand down.’”

At least three former employees told WAVE News Troubleshooters the facility did not document incident reports accurately, if at all.

Joanne Alvarado, a former registered nurse who worked at the center said she repeatedly reported the conditions up the chain, conditions she described as abusive, cruel and criminal.

Alvarado wasn’t the only one. Several other employees who spoke to WAVE Troubleshooters and to the Adair County Community Voice echoed the same troubling conditions that they believe are civil rights violations.

“You’ve been locked up for three months, and someone finally opens that door and says, ‘Well now step back in,’ you’re not going to want to,” Alavarado said. “If you ran it right, you wouldn’t have these problems, if they would give them the treatment that they tell everybody they get, you would not have these problems.”

The allegations include assaults on the teenage detainees by staff, nurses being denied access to the teens to check for injuries or give medical care, using the deprivation of food as a form of “punishment” and teens not being allowed to shower for weeks at a time, soiling themselves in their cells.

“They physically put hands on this youth,” Alvarado said. “Some of these kids were behind locked doors and they were assaulted.”

The nurses claim they were prevented by the center’s supervisor giving the teens medical help or even assessing them.

“She does not want to send them to the emergency room because then there will be documentation of what happened at her facility,” Alvarado recalled.

Some of the incidents involved a teen being unresponsive.

“I’m talking about the kid was not answering to anything,” Alvarado said.

It’s not just physical harm they said was caused by some employees, but mental too. They described no schooling, no phone calls to parents or lawyers, and female teens housed in the same blocks as males, the nurses said.

“They’ll put on paper ‘24-hour isolation,’ but that youth is locked up, isolated sometimes a week,” Alvarado said.

“They’ll go to the lengths of deprivation of lights, sound,” Johnson added. “They tell people not to talk to them.”

They believe some administrators are covering the problems up.

“She will change papers,” Alvarado said of the center’s supervisor.

“Let’s get the story straight before it goes down on paper,” Johnson added. “If everyone has the same story from their perspective, then no one can go against that story and so far, they’ve been successful.”

After a series of exclusive Troubleshooter investigations on similar allegations at the Jefferson Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Lyndon, the state’s Legislative Oversight and Investigations Committee opened their own investigation.

Kerry Harvey, Secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, blamed the majority of the issues on low staffing levels. The teens at the Lyndon facility were removed last week because of fire hazard concerns, Hall said. A number of those teens were taken to the facility in Adair.

State Representative Jason Nemus (R-District 33/Louisville) expressed serious concerns about the Cabinet’s ability to manage the facilities. His worries revolved around the safety of the teens and the staff after multiple riots erupted there. His concerns have now broadened.

Alvarado said staffing isn’t what’s caused these problems, but rather mismanagement of supervisors that have gone unchecked and a lack of accountability for the Department of Juvenile Justice leadership.

Coming up on WAVE News on Wednesday at 5 and 6, hear from the employees themselves as they talk about why they feel the National Guard should be called over conditions they said are morally and ethically disturbing.

WAVE News Troubleshooters have asked to interview Secretary Harvey numerous times. Hall has said in the past that he was not available for an interview. WAVE News has now asked at least two other times for an interview, Hall has not responded to those subsequent requests.