Katara Simmons/News-Sun Saturday's riot at the Avon Park Youth Academy began on the basketball court after a bet of three packages of soup mix wasn't paid by the losing team. By Tuesday, a lot of the damage caused by the teens had been repaired.
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published: Wednesday, August 21, 2013
First charges filed in APYA riot
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
Avon Park -- Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd announced Tuesday the first juvenile has been charged in the riot that occurred at the Avon Park Youth Academy Saturday night.
Charles Kenneth Smith, 17, faces felony charges for rioting, burglary, grand theft and one count of introducing contraband into detention facility. Smith was at APYA because of three prior charges: possession of marijuana with intent to sell, possession of paraphernalia and loitering/prowling.
Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters led a press tour of the facility Tuesday to show how much progress has been made in cleaning up since the riot. The campus was quiet with few signs of the vandalism in the area reporters toured.
While there was significant vandalism to furnishings, 95 percent of the total damage to 18 buildings was broken windows Brian Neupaver, vice-president of G4S, said. G4S runs the facility under a contract with DJJ.
Most of the windows seen on the tour had already been replaced, but not with glass. Lexan, a plastic product, is being used instead.
Neupaver said the contents of the medical building had been one focus of juvenile attention.
"They spent some time in here," he said. The refrigerators had been turned upside down and files holding medical records tipped over. Some over-the-counter medications were taken and vials of vaccine had been smashed. Packets of fake blood, used for training, had been sprayed on the floor. Again, by the time of the tour everything had been put right.
Walters said she was pleasantly surprised at the facility's condition during the tour. "It's not what I was expecting to find," she said.
The riot began at about 8:30 p.m. after a basketball game between two groups of juveniles, five from St. Petersburg and five from Orlando. A bet of three Cup O' Noodles soup had been made. The losing team from St. Pete refused to pay up. This led to a small fight between the players that grew into a larger fight as young men near the basketball court joined the fray. The noise attracted the attention of boys in the dormitories, many of whom ran outside. It was at this time the situation spun out of control.
A staff radio and all the facilities golf carts were commandeered by the rioters. Fire extinguishers and television sets were thrown through windows --18 of the 20 dormitories were completely trashed, Judd said. Juveniles were climbing up onto a roof, throwing things over the fence at deputies, and started two fires, one in a dumpster and the other a building housing records. Both fires were put out without incident.
The initial 911 call to Polk County dispatch was received at 8:34 p.m.
A calm female voice tells the dispatcher, "we have a riot situation here. We need some assistance here. The juveniles are out of control at this time." In the background, a male voice can be heard urgently ordering staff to, "report to your units, I repeat, report to your units, report to your units."
It took deputies about 20 minutes to reach the site because of the distance and roundabout drive to get to the academy thorough Highlands County.
Judd told reporters Monday the first thing the PCSO did on arrival was secure the perimeter. Some deputies geared up and K-9 units were brought in. Using public address systems in police cruisers, the juveniles were told to stop fighting and come to the front gate. Many boys were not involved in the rioting and most of them came immediately. Eventually all did, but it took several hours before the most disruptive gave up. Every resident juvenile has been accounted for.
"The key," Judd said, "was not to overreact." The damage was already done, the perimeter secured, and the law enforcement presence overwhelming. With tear gas and dogs on hand, all the juveniles were taken peacefully into custody.
Several times Judd said the academy staff had done an excellent job and worked "valiantly" to contain the fighting as soon as it began. Judd also complimented DJJ for its cooperation at the time and since.
DJJ rules prohibit special crowd-control equipment at the facility, so the staff had no resources, like pepper spray, to stop the violence once it got under way, he said.
"G4S staff tried really hard to quell the fight and were directly engaged until they were overpowered ... overwhelmed by the sheer volume (of juveniles running wild)," Judd said. "We worked as a team. I can't say enough good about the G4S people. The bottom line, let's not forget, that it was the delinquents that caused (the riot) not DJJ, not G4S."
By the time the it was over, about four hours after it began, seven juveniles had sustained injuries, the two most serious being a broken leg and a concussion. As of Monday, the boy with the broken leg was still in the hospital. Everyone else was treated and released.
Of the 138 juveniles, the 64 suspected of being involved were transported to the PCSO South County Jail in Frostproof where they are being held apart from the adult population. G4S president Jim Hill said the young men without immediate charges should be returned to APYA by the end of this week. At that time, the DJJ will reevaluate them for possible reassignment to other facilities.
Walters emphasized APYA is not a prison. It is an intensive vocational school for boys who have been in trouble with the law. The academy is a secure detention center, and while residents may move about the campus, they do so with supervision. "This program is misunderstood," Walters said. "There's a lot of good being done here."
Vocational training is provided by Home Builders Institute. It provides seven different, hands-on trade programs. The boys typically spent six hours a day maintaining and repairing the campus.
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