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Lawsuit alleges widespread abuse, cover-up at Tulsa Juvenile Center

The Tulsa County Family Center for Juvenile Justice is seen.
Tulsa County
The Tulsa County Family Center for Juvenile Justice is seen.

21 people have accused officers at the Tulsa County Family Center for Juvenile Justice of sexually assaulting and harassing them while they were detained.

A civil lawsuit was filed Friday, roughly a month after detention officer Jonathan Hines was criminally charged for allegedly having sex with a teenager in custody. Former center director Anthony Taylor was subsequently fired.

Hines and Taylor are two of more than 20 county juvenile bureau employees named in the lawsuit. They're accused of using their positions to either harass or sexually abuse the detainees, or of neglecting to stop abuse.

What the lawsuit claims

In addition to Hines, other accused employees include a nurse who gave dubious one-on-one “heat treatments” to a youth, and a guard who shared explicit photos.

All three of these defendants allegedly exchanged items like vape pens, marijuana gummies and snacks with those they assaulted.

A detention officer allegedly reported that the teenagers were told they'd be transferred to David L. Moss Justice Center if they complained, "and you know what happens to kids at DLM.”

Court documents also claim other employees knew about the abuse and did nothing.

On April 24, Judge Kevin Gray, who’s in charge of personnel matters at the juvenile justice center, emailed Director Taylor.

“I would ask that there be a mandatory meeting and training done as soon as possible to discuss issues surrounding inappropriate contact with the detainees, specifically sexual contact. It appears that some of the staff either does not know or simply disagrees with the reality that it is a crime to engage in ANY sexual contact with a detainee, even if that contact is initiated by or done willingly by a detainee,” Gray's email reads.

Taylor wrote to Gray that the center’s “continued improvement is reflected in the increased confidence of employees when working with complex and hostile residents,” according to court documents.

Gray fired Taylor two weeks later, after nonprofit Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law & Justice called for an investigation into the center.

Other allegations in the lawsuit predate the sexual abuse claims by close to a year. The state Office of Juvenile Affairs placed the center on probation in May 2023 because it “remained out of compliance for the last 11 months,” a letter to county commissioners reads.

The county commissioners oversee infrastructure and technology improvements for the center. They also offer recommendations on personnel decisions.

“At least one member of the Tulsa County Public Defender’s office advised the Defendant Tulsa County Commissioners, at that time, that it was subjecting itself to a federal civil rights lawsuit if it did not correct the condition within the Juvenile Detention Center,” the lawsuit reads.

The center is not currently on probation, according to Tulsa County Chief Public Defender Lora Howard.

What is the county commissioners’ role?

While the board of county commissioners is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, its members say they did not have influence over decisions related to the allegations.

After the civil lawsuit was filed, commissioners’ spokesperson Laurie Lee noted the county “does not manage or have direct oversight of the operations at the Family Center for Juvenile Justice” under state law.

“Tulsa County has been made aware of the situation at the Family Center for Juvenile Justice. The allegations against the juvenile detention officer are very serious. Safe and secure housing for the juvenile offenders is of the utmost importance,” the statement reads.

But the lawsuit alleges at least one commissioner knew about the situation and discussed it with other officials before the conditions were widely known. It states that on May 17, an unnamed commissioner met with Taylor, the district attorney’s and public defender’s offices and others “to address a corrective plan” in response to the center getting placed on probation.

In August 2023, County Commissioner Karen Keith’s deputy James Rea sent an email to Judge Doug Drummond about the situation.

“We wanted to let you know that yesterday Commissioner Keith and I spoke to Judge Gray and suggested he consider engaging David Parker, the former Jail Administrator, on a contract basis to evaluate and make recommendations for operational improvements at the Tulsa Juvenile Bureau. Please call us if you have any concerns,” reads Rea’s email.

Keith declined to comment on the situation Tuesday, citing the pending litigation.

Rea is running for Keith’s commissioner seat, which will be left empty since Keith is running for mayor of Tulsa.

Max Bryan is a news anchor and reporter for KWGS. A Tulsa native, Bryan worked at newspapers throughout Arkansas and in Norman before coming home to "the most underrated city in America." Several of Bryan's news stories have either led to or been cited in changes both in the public and private sectors.