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Florida Lawmakers Demand Answers From the Department of Juvenile Justice

Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice is being called on the carpet following complaints of teens being mistreated, or worse, while in state custody. Among them is the case of a mentally disabled boy who was allegedly raped at the Leon County Juvenile Detention Center. Now the teen’s family is waiting to see if the state will pay for its mistakes.

These last several months have been rough on the Russ family.

Eighty-four-year-old Mattie Russ has a mentally disabled teenage nephew named Robert. The teen was mistreated and allegedly sexually assaulted while in a juvenile detention center. She and his grandmother Pearlie Russ had promised Robert’s dying mother they’d take care of him, and they were heartbroken when they learned what happened.

Pearlie Russ, Robert's grandmother, says, "I cried all night, I cried a half a day the next day, and I’ve been crying ever since."

The state admits putting Robert in the detention center because it didn’t have any beds available in a group home. An internal investigation found guards assigned another teen who was an alleged sex offender to care for Robert because he couldn’t care for himself. The state ultimately fired six DJJ employees and disciplined five others.

The Department of Juvenile Justice admits it failed to provide proper care for Robert, but says he never should have been in a detention center to begin with. The department is not prepared to house people with severe mental disabilities.

Now Robert’s family is pursuing a lawsuit against the state. Their attorney says it’s about sending a message.

Benjamin Crump, the family's attorney, says, "You pray after something as egregious as this that by bringing light to it, and making it a public debate, that our government officials will never ever let something like this happen to someone else’s child."

Angry state lawmakers are demanding answers too. The Department of Juvenile Justice says it’s now trying to do a better job of segregating sex offenders and making sure children with disabilities are provided proper care.

Florida lawmakers will consider this and other cases on Wednesday.


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