On February 4, 2010, Downing Clark Center's (DCC) license to provide residential care for 72 behaviorally disturbed children was revoked by the Office of Residential Child Care (ORCC). This revocation was based on nine alleged violations of licensing rules for Child Caring Institutions that came to "light" as a result of a "riot" on January 5, 2010. Downing Clark Center appealed this revocation. On September 23, Administrative Law Judge Steven W. Teate's ruling reversed this revocation of license and removed seven out of the nine violation citations that led to this revocation. Two low level safety risk violations of licensing were substantiated by Judge Teate.
On the evening of January 5, 2010, a prank 911 call was made to the Gordon County Sheriff’s Department from the Downing Clark Center in Gordon County by one of the residents with a contraband cell phone. Staff immediately advised the arriving deputies that there was no disturbance and everything was in order. Against the staff's requests, 27 more deputies arrived and initiated what became a full scale police riot. These male officers barged into this all girl facility against the repeated pleas of staff. After the deputies exchanged racial slurs and sexist comments with the residents, 20 behaviorally and mentally challenged girls were taken to jail on a variety of charges.
Judge Teate could find no basis for the deputies entering the facility based on a prank 911 call. Video of the entire night clearly showed the facility in order and in control by the staff when the deputies arrived. The deputy’s verbal testimony did not match what the Judge saw on the video. No disturbance was seen on the video. The video showed no doors breached, no screaming in the hallways and no "total chaos" in the facility.
The Judge found that "once the police assumed control, the chaos described erupted and the DCC staff could no longer intervene upon police directive despite pleas to do so." Fittingly, numerous other deputies were precluded from testifying since the deputy violated the Judge's sequestration order by discussing his testimony during the trial.
Maltreatment did occur at the DCC on the night of January 5th. This maltreatment happened at the hands of the Gordon County Sheriff's Department. Severely emotionally disturbed girls were ridiculed, taunted and agitated by the people that should have been providing their protection. One developmentally challenged girl on that night put her hands in front of her and said to a deputy, "I have never been arrested before, arrest me." She was and charged with "interfering with an officer." Nineteen other girls were arrested, shackled and put in jail.
Downing Clark Center was also severely maligned by the press. The AJC newspaper articles about what happened at the DCC was sensationalism and innuendo. The AJC began the news report in January 2010 on the Downing Clark Center with these alleged stated facts, “That night, residents roamed free through Downing Clark’s dormitories. They ripped fixtures from the walls. They smashed television screens. They beat others who were younger and smaller." The AJC story did not match the facts even though video tapes of the entire night were available. Rumor ruled the day.
The real story here is that this was abuse of power by the Gordon County Sheriff's Department. Their actions were racist and sexist. They entered a facility that housed behaviorally disturbed girls when they had no training on how to deal with this population. These girls were harmed as a result and this story was never told.
This agency was hurt and the children in their care were hurt.
Normer Adams is Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children and a writer, speaker and consultant on family and social issues such as advocacy, lobbying, and child welfare policy. Learn more at www.gahsc.org/