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The company that operates the state's youth lockups fired three employees, including a facility director, after an incident in which children at the Lewisville Treatment Center were restrained overnight, officials confirmed last week.

Youth Opportunity Investments LLC dismissed Facility Director Devon McClain, Assistant Facility Director Darryl Williams and Alicia Johnson, a direct care staff member, said Amy Webb, an Arkansas Department of Human Services spokeswoman.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was unable to reach McClain, Williams or Johnson on Friday.

The Arkansas Division of Youth Services and Youth Opportunity launched investigations into the incidents at Lewisville after an Aug. 11 email from state Ombudsman Brooke Digby detailed the use of zip ties to restrain children overnight, forcing them to sleep facedown on the floor, slamming them into walls, and making them urinate in Gatorade bottles or foam cups.

"Mr. Hill, I realize mistakes happen," Digby wrote in her email addressed to Jim Hill, president of Youth Opportunity.

"I knew growing pains would occur. But this is far past a mistake or a growing pain. This is not treatment -- this is torture."

Digby visited Lewisville unannounced on Aug. 7 to talk with the teens at the lockup. She emailed the Division of Youth Services later that day to tell them that youths had slept in restraints and that she'd seen employees deny detainees use of the restroom.

Her Aug. 11 email, which was about three pages long, detailed specific instances and evidence, including "cuts and bruises" on children's wrists and lingering "imprints from zip-ties" that were several days old.

The next day, the state sent four facility monitors to Lewisville to conduct an inspection.

Michael Crump, the director of the state's Division of Youth Services, said in a previous interview that the state was able to confirm improper use of restraints in its investigation.

Johnson and McClain were suspended on Aug. 10, and Williams was suspended on Aug. 9. All three were fired by Aug. 19, Webb said.

The 32-bed Lewisville Juvenile Treatment Center opened in 1994 and is home to some of the "more resistant juveniles who are commonly disruptive in milder settings," according to the Arkansas Department of Human Services website.

The state handed over the day-to-day management of four state youth lockups in Dermott, Harrisburg, Lewisville and Mansfield to Indiana-based Youth Opportunity on July 1 under a one-year, $15.8 million contract.

After Youth Opportunity took over, company officials interviewed state employees to determine whether they would be hired again.

The Arkansas Department of Human Services originally hired McClain as "extra help" in June to help with the management transition, Webb said.

Williams had not worked for the Youth Services Division. Webb was unable to provide information on Johnson's hiring history by late Friday.

Gary Sallee, a spokesman for Youth Opportunity, declined to provide the full names, titles and salaries of the three employees.

"The names, titles and salaries are not information we are comfortable sharing at this time," Sallee said via email.

"That information seems insignificant to any story to be told."

He said the three were "terminated" after an internal investigation and a review of the violations of Youth Opportunity policy.

"There has been no finding of abuse by any of the employees," Sallee said, adding that an Arkansas State Police investigation report hasn't been published.

Youth Opportunity and the Division of Youth Services have worked together on the investigations, Sallee and Webb said.

Since the ombudsman's allegation of abuse, the state has increased its unannounced monitoring of youth treatment centers, Webb said.

"Such treatment of the youth at our facilities is not acceptable," Webb said in an emailed statement. "YOI is taking steps to address the situation, including terminating three employees. At this point, we believe it was an isolated situation, not systemic."

SundayMonday on 09/01/2019

Print Headline: 3 workers fired after email says youths abused at state lockup; 'this is torture,' ombudsman writes

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