Lawsuit: Abuse at Hastings Youth Academy

Historic City News has learned that a young man who was in custody at the Hastings Youth Academy has filed a lawsuit claiming that he was brutally assaulted by a female employee in February, 2008.

Kutanna Woods was fired for using unnecessary force against Anthony Vessels, now 18, when he suffered a broken shoulder during a dispute at the academy; but the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office declined to pursue criminal charges.

In a statement released by Deputy Director of Communications Samadhi Jones, we learned that Hastings Youth Academy is run by a private organization; G4S Youth Services — a contract provider to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

“The Department of Juvenile Justice Inspector General’s Office found that the staff used unnecessary force.” Jones said. “DJJ cooperated fully with St. Johns County Sheriffs Office, which conducted a criminal investigation.”

Lawrence Marraffino, the attorney representing Vessels, says surveillance video shows Woods twisting the boy’s arm behind his back until it snapped. Marraffino says the incident occurred because Vessels had been asked to sweep the floor — and refused.

Marraffino says Vessels has had numerous surgeries to repair the damaged arm. “They had to use hardware, pins to put his arm back together,” said Marraffino.

Jones confirmed, in the DJJ statement, “We have received a notice of claim from the law offices of Lawrence J. Marraffino, P.A., regarding this incident.”

This was not the first time management at Hastings Youth Academy was challenged last year.

January 2008: Two staff workers were fired for improperly supervising youths. Two youths were arrested for felony battery on staff workers.

February: The incident with Kutanna Woods occurred.

March: The Department of Juvenile Justice sent a “takeover notice” to G4S Youth Services, saying the company was in default of its contract to run Hastings Youth Academy because of the high number of serious incidents, inappropriate relationships between staff and juvenile offenders, and failure to develop an effective behavioral management system. According to a spokesman, the department, which oversees more than 90 residential programs for juvenile offenders, issued five takeover notices during the prior 10 months.

April: Two youths were arrested for felony battery on staff workers.

June: Two staff workers were reprimanded for improper supervision. In a separate incident, one staffer was fired and one suspended for a youth-on-youth battery incident that left one boy with a broken jaw and two others charged with felony battery. A Department of Juvenile Justice inquiry into the fight was not completed.

July: The Department of Juvenile Justice released G4S Youth Services from the “takeover notice”, saying it had substantially complied with requirements to improve. Two youths were arrested for felony battery on staff workers.

August: Two youths were arrested for felony battery on staff workers.

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