Beating Children Juvenile Probation Probation

1. Teenager at LA County Probation’s Sylmar Juvenile Hall Beaten on Video by Four Probation Officers as Supervisor Watches

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

THE BEATDOWN

On April 24, four Los Angeles County probation officers allegedly beat a non-combative 17-year-old probationer housed at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, CA, while a fifth officer, a supervisor, looked on.

The supervisor, who appeared to be overseeing the beating, was reportedly the facility’s “Officer of the Day” meaning, he was like a watch commander at a police or sheriff’s station. He was the guy in charge of the whole place.

There were no civilians present at the beating incident, other than the kid himself, so it would have been the teenager’s word against five adult law enforcement officers, had it not been for one thing: A video camera was installed in the probationer’s room.

And, unlike the bad old days, back in 2010, when around scores of the Sylmar facility’s cameras were broken or otherwise mysteriously disabled, and had been for several years, things have improved considerably on the surveillance front in the county’s juvenile halls, and the camera in the boy’s room was in perfect working condition. Thus there is a video that captures the whole event, including quite a bit of what happened—and didn’t happen—before and after.

WitnessLA has obtained a copy of the 4:18 minute video and it makes for very disturbing viewing. We cannot post the video itself as it involves a minor. But, we have posted a series of intentionally blurry screenshots that at least give you a small idea of what the recording depicts.



WHAT THE VIDEO SHOWS

The four-plus minute video is taken from what appears to be a ceiling-mounted camera. In the beginning of the recording, only the supervising officer and the boy are present. He and the tall probationer are several feet apart and the supervisor appears to be instructing the kid. (The video is a bootleg of the original, thus has no sound.) The probationer does not appear to be behaving in any way that is aggressive, threatening or combative. But, presumably there is some verbal conflict between the two. As the supervisor talks, the man conspicuously rolls up the sleeves of his shirt in what several of our probation sources who have seen the video labeled a threatening gesture.

Eventually, the supervisor leaves the room. Before he exits altogether, additional words are exchanged, then the supervisor vanishes, closing the door and presumably locking it behind him. The boy, who has a cast on his right arm (that is reportedly unrelated to his time with the county), slumps against the wall, visibly upset. A few seconds later, he throws an object at the door. The object is large and soft like a blanket, mattress cover or most likely, the narrow cot mattress itself. (Update: We have since confirmed it is the mattress cover.)

Finally the kid flops down dejectedly on his cot, at the left side of the screen. He sits for a few seconds, then finds another object to throw at the door, this time a small, white object. (We initially heard the boy hurled a milk carton. But now we hear from a highly knowledgable source that actually the frustrated kid throw a balled-up piece of white paper.) In the case of both of the object tosses, there is no one else in the room, and the door is not only closed, it is locked (as are all such probationers’ rooms in the “SHU” area at Sylmar), thus the throwing is not an attempt to injure anyone, but an acting out of emotion.

Another twenty seconds pass. The door to the room opens. The supervisor reappears and walks into the room, at which point the boy stands up and shuffles to face away from the officer, either in response to a command, or for his own reasons.

Next, in reaction to a sound or to something that is said, the kid turns around to look at the officer, his body language still not at all threatening, coiled, or combative.

We see three additional probation officers enter the room. Five or six seconds after the boy’s turn, one of the new officers lunges at the kid from the rear with startling speed and force, slamming the boy face down to the cot, then dropping down on top of him.

We have recently learned that the cot is basically a rectangular cement block, which is reportedly only covered with a towel when the kid is slammed to its surface.**

The officer then appears to deliver a serious of fast hard slugs to the kid’s body. At the same time, the other two POs both pile on, wrestling, kneeing, and punching the tall boy.

A few seconds later still, a fourth juvenile hall staffer enters the room and piles on the boy along with the other three, each seeming to either strike or knee him or simply hold him down. The boy is still on his stomach, but now his head and upper torso are pushed off the cement cot and toward the floor.

The kid visibly struggles against the blows, seemly only trying to protect his body, although he is hard to see his actions fully, since the bodies of four large men cover his.

About 60 seconds into the beating, an adult in some kind of uniform, reportedly a second supervisor, comes briefly through the door, stares for a second or two at the beating-in-progress, then exits.

Finally, approximately 1:48 minutes into the thumping, and pummeling, it abruptly stops.

The attackers simply get up from their various positions on top of or kneeling over the kid’s body. They straighten their clothing, and exit the room, The supervisor holds the door open with his right hand as they leave, making a shooing gesture with his left hand. Then he goes out the door himself. And that is that.

Once the hands and bodies of the POs are removed, we can see that the kid’s lower body is still on the cot, stomach down, with his upper torso off the cot and draped toward the floor. Weirdly, whether it was simply due to the struggle, or was deliberate, the boy’s white shorts have fallen or been pulled down halfway to his knees meaning he is visibly naked from waist to mid-thigh.

As he raises himself slowly to a sitting position, he attempts to tug up his shorts, only partially succeeding. Finally he succeeds in moving to a sitting position on the cement cot, feet on the floor, facing the room’s door.

He puts his face in his hands. His back shakes briefly as if he may be sobbing. Then, after a brief swipe at his eyes, he clasps his hands in front of him, and sits quietly, his head down, as the video ends.

There is, of course, more to the video and, according to a department source who has seen the longer version, the boy eventually tries to get up off the cot and walk, but collapses due to the pain. Thus instead, he lies down on the cool floor, looking for relief.

We understand that a nurse came in to check on the boy some minutes after the five probation officers vanished from his room. Her entrance and time with the kid are on the extended version of the video, which we have not seen. Her ministrations were allegedly minimal. She swabbed the abrasions and swelling on his face, and the like. Then she reportedly left the room without a thorough check for injuries.

Later, however, the boy reportedly called for a staffer due to his pain. The second staffer sent him to the hospital where, in addition to bruising, reported black eyes, bruises, swelling and abrasions, it is learned that he has a badly and painfully sprained ankle.

According to our sources, once probation higher-ups learned of the incident, they made sure that the young man was moved to Central Juvenile Hall, rather than send him back to Sylmar, and also made sure he was seen by mental health professionals.

An investigation into the incident was launched right away.



WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

So what should we take from this awful incident?

For one thing, it is extremely troubling that a minimum of six probation officers, two of them supervisors, either knew about or directly participated in a beating that was not a consequence of an emergent situation. To the contrary, four adults administered the beat down with cold efficiency, as a supervisor looked on, presumably with approval since he allegedly is the person who set it in motion in the first place.

Furthermore, we have spoken to three sources who have seen the video. Two are highly experienced probation officers, the third is a juvenile advocate who has spent a great deal of of time inside the county’s probation camps and halls, and is no stranger to the difficulties of safely housing and helping law-breaking, often traumatized kids, many of whom have poor impulse control, some of whom can be quite dangerous.

All three told us that they were distressed by what they saw.

“I was appalled,” said one of our veteran probation sources who asked not to be named. “The kid was never acting in any way that was threatening. His body language suggests he is angry, but he’s also compliant. When staff walked in the room, there was no time when the kid was noncompliant. That’s what was appalling about it,” the source said. “It’s pretty bad.”

Another veteran probation department source, who has also seen the video, had similar comments about the alleged beating. “It was quick, brutal, and then ‘adios.’”

We should also note that, while we don’t know whether the kid in the video did or did not mouth off or act out in some way prior to the incident depicted, one thing we have heard from sources inside probation, is that the young man in question reportedly does not have a violent record, nor a lengthy one.

The incident is alarming on its face, but the fact that these appear to be premeditated actions in which five probation officers, one of them a supervisor, participated, and that those staff members apparently assumed they could get away with it, suggests that the actions on the video are not merely part of a single aberrant incident.

Instead, sources we spoke to admitted, the incident would seem to point to the existence of a disturbing culture within the juvenile probation staff that is far more problematic than we had hoped. Given the recent completion of the multi-year oversight by the department of justice, the settlement a few years ago of a gigantic, high profile class action lawsuit, and many genuine strides toward reform, with more in the works—we would assume that the ghastly scandals of the past are over, and that four people beating a non-threatening teenager would be off the table—unheard of.

Evidently not.



NOW WHAT?

Probation Chief, Cal Remington could say little about the incident, due to legal constraints. But he did tell us this: “We hold our staff to a very high standard. We have zero tolerance for mistreating the juveniles in our care. And while I can’t really comment on an ongoing investigation, this matter is being thoroughly investigated, and we take matters of this nature very, very seriously.”

The LA County Board of Supervisors reportedly learned about the alleged beating belatedly. But, a few weeks ago, they were given access to the video and several Supes have privately expressed extreme dismay. However, none whom we contacted wanted to go on record about the incident.

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office has confirmed that the Probation Department has presented a case “involving the alleged assault of a juvenile housed at Sylmar.” The case, she said, concerns “multiple individuals” and is “under review by prosecutors” in the DA’s Justice System Integrity Division.

In the meantime, multiple staff members are reportedly on administrative leave with pay, while the DA’s office reviews their cases.

This is all well and good, and hopefully the five people responsible for the alleged beating of a non-combative 17-year-old on video will be appropriately held to answer, and will not be allowed to work anywhere near adolescents, now or in the future.

But what about the attitudes toward the law-breaking kids in our county’s care that the video arguably represents? By all accounts, we have good, reform-minded, and very skilled interim probation chief in Cal Remington, and presumably the powers-that-be will eventually find the right permanent chief to lead the state’s largest probation agency.

However, one person can only do so much, especially when an agency has been plagued by ghastly dysfunction as long as this one has—recent improvements, notwithstanding. For the foreseeable future, much of the day-to-day job of leading LA County Probation will involve juggling chain saws (metaphorically speaking).

We know that the Working Group for Probation Department Oversight is meeting regularly to, as they state on their website, “determine whether a new citizens’ commission should be established to comprehensively monitor the troubled agency,” as the Board of Supervisors have rightly requested.

We hate to be preemptive, as we understand the working group still has more work to do, but yes: monitoring body badly needed,. And make that a monitoring body with access to all relevant information so it has the ability to actually do its job. And by “relevant information” we mean, like, say videos of four adults overseen by a supervisor beating down a 17-year-old, who could be your kid, or grandkid, or could be mine.


**EDITOR’S NOTE: We have continued to update this story as we get more detailed information from sources familiar with what happened on April 24. For example, we originally were not sure if the cement cot was covered or not. We have since learned positively that the boy tossed his mattress at the door, and the only thing covering the cot at the time of the alleged beating incident was a towel.

Additionally, we have heard conflicting things about whether or not the kid’s jaw was fractured. So we’d rather leave it .

18 Comments

  • The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors should be taken over by the Federal Government, based upon the slow & no reaction to the malfeasance of County Services and entities. The latest incident with the Probation Department is totally unacceptable.

  • What happened to innocent before proven guilty. This website is a joke. Give the people what they ask for, a two sided story so we can form our one opinion. Please don’t feed us a bias one sided story…and let me guess my statement won’t even be poste…haha

  • “…………And while I can’t really comment on an ongoing investigation, this matter is being thoroughly investigated, and we take matters of this nature very, very seriously.”

    Me thinks what they take “very, very seriously” is getting caught. Notice that there was another, possibly a supervisor, that came in, observed what was going on, and then left. If there were any ethics remaining in their little minds, someone would have made a report…which, no one did… They act more like a gang than many gangs do……

  • Anyone who works with probation youth know that those kids can be very rude, defiant, disrespectful, etc. those probation officers would not have done anything like that if they didn’t feel a strong need to send a strong message. I don’t condone whoopin his ass like that, but these kids have to learn a lesson at some point. The behaviors of juveniles is far worst today because kids are not disciplined like they used to be . I hope they are not fired

  • Yes juveniles in halls or camps CB be rude and defiant. As trained “professionals” this is totally unacceptable. Regardless of what the MINOR said and adult that works with minors should be capable of stepping away from the situation before even thinking of putting hands on and of the minors in their care. First challenger had the DOJ supervise them; now it appears BJN has opened an invitation to be supervised again. Clearly any one that allows comments from a minor get under their skin is not emotionally balanced and should not be allowed to work with minors. Have fun being investigated fools.

  • EDITOR’S NOTE:

    To LASD folks, present and former:

    I’m very aware of the latest rumor going around—in detail.

    And, I apologize to those of you whose comments I’ve edited or deleted. We’ve got a policy of not repeating scandals—true or false—about people’s personal lives.

    But I understand your concerns.

    Right now, all we know is that someone in the department is dealing with a very painful family situation. If we hear about clear and verifiable professional wrongdoing, we’ll be happy to widen the discussion.

    I know it’s difficult not to want to talk about all this. We are a storytelling species.

    Have a good weekend. May we all stay cool.

    C.

  • According to Celeste this kid could be hers (or mine). I wonder if Celeste knows what it actually takes to earn a place in one of these facilities. Behind every one of these monsters is a wake of destruction and a ton of victims that this blog never seems to care very much about. So , Celeste’s little snow flakes find themselves in a probation facility and they still want to act the fool? I’m with the probation officers on this one.

  • It has absolutely no bearing on this situation but in the interest of facts, the staff involved in this incident are not Probation Officers, they are Detention Services Officers similar in job description and pay to a Custody Assistant. This incident is disgusting and horrifying. I doubt you will find many in the department that will disagree. There is NOTHING one of these minor’s does that is worth the financial security of my family or my retirement. Walk away, step aside, call someone else who has fresh eyes. It is not our job to “whoop their ass” or “discipline them.” Not our job description, not what the taxpayers hired us to do. Are they difficult? You bet. Are they hard to deal with? Absolutely. Are they assholes? Every day. But if you cannot maintain in this environment and provide PROFESSIONAL services, it is time for you to move along. We invited the DOJ into our house when we failed to police ourselves. Their oversight and the settlement agreement was the best thing that happened to this department in decades. The rogue mentality and routine crushing of civil rights would have eventually resulted in prison terms for staff (reference LASD!). It is shameful that we had to have someone else tell us that we need training in use of force, suicide prevention, policy restricting alcohol use while at work, a written plan for running the institutions……and the list goes on. And we called ourselves professionals. The response to this incident is light years away from the past. The case has already been presented to the DA. These folks are looking at some serious jail/prison time. Personally, I don’t think it calls for the DOJ to return. The department responded swiftly and correctly. Can’t improve in that. But we can continue to remind staff that “those days are long over.” Get your mind around progressive moves or ramp up your resume and move along. As a team, as a department, as a group of peace officers, our collective response should be NOT IN MY HOUSE! As for #8 NICOBAR SAYS: We don’t want you with us.

  • Just want to applaud what LA County DPO wrote. These entry level staff do deal with terribly difficult youth as do actual Probation Officers but there is no excuse for this kind of behavior. Good for Chief Remington for moving quickly. Unfortunately, with ALL large agencies, there are some hiring mistakes that poison the minds of other staff and you just saw some of them. Please don’t judge the entire agency by the conduct of some remaining bad apples.

  • Seeing that none of us were in the room before, during or after the incident how can we possibly know what went down. To start with if the minor was in the SHU(special Handling Unit) it was because he could not maintain himself in a regular unit and was sent to the “SHU” as part of a disciplinary action. Second when a Officer give the minor a command it is not a suggestion of what the officer wants him to do. Third if in fact the Supervisor who first entered the room was the “OD” that was because the minor was causes such a disturbance that he had to be called(“OD” don’t go to the SHU every time a minor is sent there furthermore if the “OD” was the supervisor in the room and left and closed the door and then had to return it was because of the minor. Fourth you mentioned that you had a 4 minute video but only showed less then 2 minutes and I believe in the initial story I read you pieced it together I have watched the video and that hard concrete bed you keep talking about does have a green mattress on it so his face was not slammed into the concrete(the mattress are green and in the last 2 photos you can see he is sitting on what appears to be something green.
    To LA County DPO I know by your rank that you are not in the halls but at one of the Camps and from your comments it would appear that you haven’t been for quite sometime but you were probably in the halls at one time and if you ever had to resist a minor I know you used whatever you thought was necessary force. When the “OD” returned with more officers and gave the minor a command he failed to comply I guess most people on here would say we should have said “please” these minor are not in juvenile hall because they missed choir practice they are there because they committed a crime.

    You stated that the minor was struggling to protect himself but you could say for sure well one of the first thing we tell a minor in a juvenile hall is follow the officer orders and in a resistant we tell them to stop resisting.

    For information a nurse(most of them are RN)is called every time there is a resistant done and they give the minor a through exam, if the minor did not complain about his ankle at the time she was there that’s on him. You implied that he complained to a second Staffer and that person sent him to the hospital again your facts are wrong either the medical unit staff or the “OD” has to authorize for a minor to be taken to the hospital.

    Now here a suggestion for why not try and get the 30 minutes before this incident happened video tapes so you would have all the facts. find out why the “OD” had to be called and why was it necessary for the “OD” to return to the room after he had spoken to the minor and had left the room and as you pointed out closed the door

    Finally you keep referring to this as a beat down, no it was a necessary resistant to make the minor comply with the commands give to him for his safety, the officers in the building safety and fellow minors housed in the unit.

  • Well DPO guess I just feel like I can relate with the guys stuck doing the dirty work. Obviously I’m not in the probation dept. (thank god). You guys want to eat your own, have at it. Guess I just got to wonder where you were at when all this civil rights violation stuff went down. Looking forward to seeing you out front next time naming names, pointing out the bad guys.

  • There is never just one cockroach.

    The staff would not have done this ferocious and illegal assault–underneath a TV recorder!–if they didn’t think it was SOP, standard operating procedure. They acted as if piling on kids to beat them up was nothing out of the ordinary. That’s almost certainly because it was, and is, nothing out of the ordinary.

    Reforming the institution will take a lot more than sending these particular individuals to jail.

  • By no means this type of physical intervention should of been allowed by the SDSO. The minor did not posed a threat to staff or himself. If the minor wasn’t compliant to the SDSO’s request u close his door n that’s it… now if the minor inflicts injury to himself that’s a different story… he becomes a L-3, physical intervention is granted if the minor hurts himself or others. Still this doesn’t grant U to brutally beat the minor. These staff placed themselves in this situation they’ll be punished and made an example if other Probation Staff follow this type of misconduct. If you’re too sensitive to what these minors say to you, this job is not for U.

  • Fellow Probation staff, please refrain from commenting about this situation or passing judgement on your peers. The people who own and read this site are not your friends, they do not have sympathy for you, and they do not understand what it is like to do this job. Regardless of how you feel about this, it should have been an in house matter from the start and we should allow the department to police our own in the correct manner and give them the pubishment they deserve if found guilty. Anytime outsiders get involved they only do so because they feel sorry for the kids and don’t know some of the monsters and sociopaths that we deal with on a daily basis. When you make comments regarding Probation policy on a public forum, you are not doing the rest of us any favors.

  • This place seems to have gotten worse. I remember when I was there in the mid- 90s while they were constructing the HRO building which was not completed by the time I left. It’s been 20 years and I remember vividly, everything that happened. I remember taking a small empty milk carton to my room because there were no toilets in the room and the windows were painted black on the outside. I remember urinating in the milk carton and the following morning trying to dispose of it. I was stopped and told to go back to my room and set the carton out by the door along with my shoes. The staff came back and asked me why I had contraband in the room. I won’t name the staff member (I’ll use their initials of their last name), but he was a large guy that looked like a biker, Mr. S. and also the supervisor Ms. A. He made me drink my urine. I only drank a small amount before I started gagging. After they made me put my pants and shirt outside my door by my shoes along with the milk carton. Then told me to walk back and sit on my bunk. Ms. A then sprayed pepper spray in the room on the floor and closed the door. I had to take off my underwear and put them over my face because of the gagging effects and burning eyes that I was having after pepper spray was sprayed in the room. I started kicking the door and Mr. S came back and handcuffed me, tight, and brought me by the office door. The cuffs were removed after I said that my wrist were hurting and I when I saw my left hand there was a huge nodule about 3 cm in diameter on the back of my left hand. I remember that day the teacher came to the unit, Mrs. E, and she knew something was wrong. She asked me in private (well still in the dayroom) but in a low voice what happened. I set my left hand on the table and was able to show her the large nodule. She then continued with the lesson, but gave me a piece of blank paper shortly after and just said “I know, you have to write it.” I wrote down the basics of what happened, but I don’t know anything ever became of it as I was never asked by anyone about it. My next court appearance, I did make it a point to have my attorney request that I be permanently housed at Central Juvenile Hall which was granted by the court while I was going through my fitness hearing which took 19 months. Interestingly enough, whenever I hear the song by LeAnn Rimes “How Do I Live” I can immediately remember every smell, every detail, everything about that day because that was the song that Ms. A was playing as I sat by the office while I was handcuffed.

  • I volunteered at this facility for about 12 years. Back then the kids were not that bad. I actually had a great time with some of them. They were great full towards us, volunteers. In fact, I have been in touch with one young man now for over 25 years. I met him when he was 14yo. He is now over 40. Our friendship started at the Hall and continues to this day. He was ever-so-gratefull for all the support and confidence that I provided him. I was even keen enough to get him to enroll in Jr College. But today’s kids…. I believe they can use a beating at times.

Leave a Comment