Haley Bonds says she did everything she could think of to protect her 16-year-old daughter from the beatdown she was expecting at a youth jail in Northwest Georgia.
Yet, just 20 minutes after a supervisor assured her Whitney Bonds would be safe, another called Haley to say her daughter was “bleeding out” and being rushed to the emergency room. At the hospital, Haley said, doctors told her Whitney’s nose had been “crushed” and she would need corrective surgery and dental work.
Whitney had just told a supervisor that two guards had bribed her and another girl to attack a third girl the night before, according to a written record of the complaint obtained by JJIE. The guards, she charged, threatened to “put out a hit on her” if she told anyone about it.
Her assailant made no mention of the guards’ involvement, though. Instead, an incident report prepared by one of those guards says the girl told her that night, “She [Whitney] keep talking sh** and plus she jumped on [the other girl] so I went over there and knocked her ass out.”
Whitney had returned to her cellblock and sat down next to a water fountain. A guard allowed another girl to get up for a drink of water, the incident report said, and the girl “started hitting Whitney Bonds in the face.”
“She gave her permission to go get water knowing she was going to beat the crap out of my daughter,” Whitney’s mother said.
Whitney says she remembers little else about the attack, having blacked out after the girl started punching her in the face. “She just stood right in front of me,” Whitney said. “The [guards] were right there.”
The state Department of Juvenile Justice, which is wrapping up an internal investigation of the Dec. 7 incident, had little to say on the matter last week. “There is no criminal case involving DJJ staff members at this point,” spokesman Jim Shuler wrote in an e-mail Wednesday.
Historically, Shuler said, “it’s not uncommon to hear allegations of corrections officers instigating violence between residents in any juvenile justice institutional setting.” However, no such allegations have been confirmed since the new head of the agency, Gale Buckner, became DJJ’s commissioner in November, he said.
Whitney, who is awaiting her day in court for her alleged role with three adults in an armed robbery, spent more than an hour last week talking about life inside the Bob Richards Regional Youth Detention Center near Rome, Ga., and the girls’ often tense relationship with the adults guarding them.
The two fights, she said, followed a week of verbal abuse by several guards directed at Whitney and other girls.
Some guards routinely threatened the girls with profanities and racial epithets, calling them “pu*****” and “white bitches,” Whitney said.
Sometimes, she said, officers tried to goad the girls into fighting them.
One supervisor threw a cup on water on her and called her a “pu*** ass mother******,” Whitney said. Another guard who was present, and a counselor whom she told later, both laughed about it, she said.
Whitney believes she was beaten as retaliation for telling her mother about the guards’ role in instigating the fight a day earlier.
The target of the earlier attack had been placed for disciplinary reasons in a classroom where a teacher but no officers were stationed. Two guards offered her and another girl McDonald’s hamburgers and a Dr Pepper if they would assault her, she said.
The guards “didn’t like her because she had a smart mouth,” Whitney said. “They would pick on her and she’d fill out grievance forms.”
Whitney acknowledged hitting the girl several times after sneaking up behind her.
“I just pretended to punch her a little bit,” she said. “I didn’t want to do it in the first place. … I did it so they wouldn’t put a hit on me and I would still get the stuff they said.”
Whitney and the second assailant were pulled off in a minute or two, she said, and locked in their cells. After she threatened to tell her mother what happened, one guard taunted her through the cell door, she said, yelling that she’d charge her with terroristic threats and sue her and her family if Whitney did so.
“She said she was going to whup my family [and] whup me,” Whitney said. (That guard was later fired, DJJ said, for failing to complete her cadet training.)
Whitney said she confirmed to another officer that night that the guards had put her up to the fight.
The next night, her mother said, Whitney entered the visitation room crying and told her mom what happened. “She said, ‘They’re going to jump me. They will do it . … They’re going to hurt me,’” Haley Bonds said.
Haley said she called over a supervising officer so Whitney could tell him about the threats. The officer listened and promised Whitney would be safe.
Leaving the RYDC shortly after 8 p.m., Haley ran into that officer again outside. Haley said she made the officer promise Whitney would be safe.
“He said, ‘I’ve already taken care of it. I’ve talked to my officers. Nothing is going to happen to her,’” Bonds said.
At 8:24 p.m., just as Haley arrived at her home in Rome, a sergeant from the RYDC called her. “He said, ‘Miss Bonds, your daughter’s bleeding out. … She’s lost a lot of blood.’”
Haley said a state official told her that the guards in question would remain on the job during the investigation, but would have no contact with youths in the facility. Whitney was returned to the RYDC later that night but stayed in a booking room isolated from the other girls.
Four days after the fight, though, Whitney had been returned to her cellblock and two of the same guards were present when Haley came to visit. Whitney recognized a voice coming from the control room that day as a third guard who had threatened her, Whitney said.
Haley called a state DJJ investigator, who immediately arranged to have Whitney transferred to a youth prison in Dalton. The guards were reassigned the next day, DJJ officials say.
Several weeks later, Whitney was fitted for an ankle monitor and released on bond.
Whitney “has been the best child” since then, Haley said. “She gave her testimony at church … She said she knew God was with her through everything she’s been through.”
Some days are rougher, though. “She cried all day yesterday,” Haley Bonds said in early February.
Whitney’s mother said authorities have repeatedly urged her to file charges against the girl accused in the assault. But she won’t.
“I say the adults are the ones responsible for my daughter’s beating,” Bonds wrote in a Dec. 30 letter to DJJ Commissioner Buckner. “This was pre-meditated and that’s where I want justice is with the adults.”
Main Photo: Jim Walls