Niles said he ordered immediate suspensions for 19 investigators and their former supervisor.. “pending an investigation into alleged failure to carry out their assigned duties in a timely manner.”
An advisory committee told the commissioner this week that more than 20 unfinished internal investigations of sex abuse allegations from 2012 have remained open longer than the 45 days allowed by department policy.
“This alleged failure of accountability is the last thing we expected to find among an experienced and dedicated staff at [Juvenile Justice],” Niles said. “It is a disturbing breach of confidence and fundamentally unacceptable. These investigators have a duty to protect our youth and employees and to uphold the most basic standards of professional behavior.”
The suspensions come less than a week after Niles assigned a special department advisory committee to review a federal survey which alleged Georgia has some of the highest rates of sexual abuse incidents in juvenile detention centers in the U.S., a release from the department stated.
Paulding County’s Regional Youth Detention Center, which houses young offenders from seven counties while they await juvenile court hearings, had the highest percentage of any single center surveyed in the nation.
Niles said the suspensions were a necessary first step to restore credibility in the Office of Investigations before the department can move forward to complete its unfinished investigations and take a closer look at all reported cases and the allegations in the federal survey.
“We had to take these immediate corrective actions to ensure all reports of sexual abuse and harrassment are thoroughly investigated according to [department] policy and state and federal law,” Niles said.
“At this time I’m also announcing that the Department of Juvenile Justice will officially request assistance from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia Department of Corrections so we can have independent outside agencies carefully examine and complete these unfinished internal investigations of sex abuse allegations,” the commissioner said.
Niles also reported he recently hired new Chief Investigator Ricky Rich to conduct a comprehensive top-to-bottom reorganization of the Office of Investigations before his advisory committee made this discovery, the release stated.
Since his appointment by the governor last November, Niles said he has emphasized department transparency and agency-wide get-tough warnings for major policy violations.
“At the Department of Juvenile Justice, staff members who violate positions of trust and responsibility will continue to face severe consequences, regardless of time on the job, employee rank or position in this agency. I gave clear warning when I was appointed commissioner that serious violations of policy will not be tolerated in our professional juvenile justice workplace,” he said.