NewsLocal NewsInvestigations

18 juvenile detainees escaped from their Wayne County cells. Did a guard make it possible?

Video shows guard 'sliding' item under cell door before escape took place
Posted at 5:20 PM, Aug 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-01 23:14:02-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Two Wayne County employees are facing possible termination following a scathing internal investigation into how 18 juveniles were able to escape from their cells inside the county’s detention facility.

After first agreeing to an interview about the escapes, Wayne County officials declined comment saying that the matter remains under investigation.

A preliminary investigation, obtained by 7 Action News, was submitted last week by David Brooks, who was then the interim director of the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility.

It was sent to Genelle Allen, the county’s Chief Operation Officer. Brooks resigned from the county last week.

The investigation concludes that the inmates’ escape “appears to be wholly caused by staff errors” and cites numerous security failures, including by a supervisor, and raises questions about what a guard passed under a detainee's cell door before the escape.

“It seems like a lot of systems basically collapsed,” said Wayne County Commissioner Jonathan Kinloch in response to the investigation’s findings.

According to the report, after a shift-change on May 28, a supervisor asked one of the guards to “keep an eye” on one of the pods where residents are housed because “she had a feeling that something was going on.”

That guard was asked to check the locks to the cells to make sure they were secure. She claims she did, but residents say she did not.They said that same guard also left the keys to the cells in a drawer, a violation of facility policy.

Later on, according to the report, that same guard could be seen on surveillance video “sliding what appears to be notes from one resident to another.”

It wasn’t long after that, according to the report, that one of the juveniles was able to “pop out” out of his cell, “retrieve keys from the drawer, and (let) other residents out.”

Once they escaped form their cells, “residents began to destroy the pod including the television, computer and pod tables. One resident smashed the sprinkler head…and began to flood the pod.”

At least two juveniles sustained injuries and county property was seriously damaged.

One staffer described what unfolded as a riot.

“We’re obligated to detain these folks that have broken the law, and we’re also obligated to protect them while they’re in custody,” said Wayne County Commissioner Ray Basham in response to the investigation’s findings.

Jail guards were at risk, too. The supervisor on the floor said he “heard residents saying that they wanted to attack some staffers” and that he was “fearful for their safety.”

The detention facility, much like the county jails, suffers from severe understaffing. The supervisor ordered guards to evacuate the pod, because according to one: “We are outnumbered.”

Ultimately, Detroit police officers and Wayne County Sheriff’s deputies were called in to restore order and return juveniles to their cells.

Tonight, serious questions linger over what role staff played in making this possible.

According to the report, the guard caught on surveillance sliding something under the cell door initially denied doing so. But when an investigator offered to play her the tape showing otherwise, she “…requested an attorney and ended the interview.”

“If it’s malicious—and I’m sure they’re looking into it—then they should be punished,” Commissioner Basham said.

The supervisor who ordered guards off the floor is also facing potential discipline. The report recommends that both be terminated.

“These are serious public interest issues that can potentially become liabilities,” Kinloch said, “not only for the county but to the citizens.”

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at ross.jones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.