Nearly 20 investigators suspended from Department of Juvenile Justice

by: Richard Belcher Updated:

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - Channel 2 Action News is following a developing story at the state Department of Juvenile Justice where the commissioner has suspended 19 investigators and the former head of the investigations unit.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher has learned the issue is a long list of unfinished investigations of sexual abuse inside youth prisons.

Juvenile Justice is clearly reeling from a U.S. Department of Justice report that said four Georgia youth detention centers are among the worst in the country for sexual abuse of detainees.

DJJ's commissioner began suspending his own internal investigators when it became clear that 20 cases of alleged sexual abuse are still unresolved.

Channel 2 Action News had the only camera outside of Juvenile Justice headquarters in DeKalb County Thursday afternoon when suspended staff investigators were escorted out.

According to a department spokesman, Commissioner Avery Niles decided to suspend 19 investigators and the former head of the investigations unit because of the lingering cases.

According to the spokesman, all internal investigations are supposed to be concluded in 45 days, but 20 cases of alleged sex abuse of young detainees are still open despite being filed last year.

Spokesman Jim Shuler told Belcher by phone the commissioner has made a formal request to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia Department of Corrections for independent agencies to complete the unfinished investigations.

Niles issued a brief statement saying, "It is a disturbing breach of accountability, and it is fundamentally unacceptable. This is the last thing we expected to find among a staff of experienced investigators."

The 19 investigators and their former director are suspended with pay and are accused of administrative violations, not criminal charges.

Whether they will be fired has not been resolved yet.

The four institutions with the highest sex abuse rates are Paulding County RYDC and youth detention centers in Augusta, Eastman and Americus.