Youth found dead of drug overdose at LA County’s Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall

Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall
Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

A boy was found dead of a drug overdose at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall Tuesday morning.

According to our sources the teenager was found unresponsive on the floor of his room in what is known as Unit X. Staff called for medical help but reportedly it was too late. He was pronounced dead at approximately 8:28 a.m.

“Our nursing staff immediately administered emergency services, including the use of Narcan,” said LA County Probation’s Chief Strategist for Juvenile Operations, Guillermo Viera Rosa, in an e-mailed statement.

The boy was not taken to the hospital. Yet there are suggestions the teenager may have been dead for a while, and was found during a cyclical room check on Tuesday morning.

There is also a report that, as is too often the case, on Monday night some staff members were held over for unhealthily long shifts, and were exhausted, which may have led to missed room checks.

Barry J, as it is known for short, is one of the county’s two extremely trouble-plagued two youth lock-ups that have become unsafe for both youth and staff.

Unit X is the unit that houses youth who have been transferred from California’s youth prisons, the Department of Youth Justice (DJJ), which will be permanently shuttered this summer. These and certain other units are known as “Secure Youth Track Facility” units, or SYTF.

As WitnessLA has reported previously, there has been a dangerous drug overdose problem in the youth facility located in Sylmar, CA.

“Heroin and fentanyl has been rampant throughout the facility,” a probation officer reminded us this morning.

In early February of this year, five kids overdosed on fentanyl at Barry J, with one of the kids overdosing twice. In each case,  a staff member administered Narcan, and young people were transported to medical facilities and survived. 

According to WitnessLA’s probation sources, in some cases (but certainly not all) the drugs youth use in the facility are brought in by staff members. Yet there are multiple ways that kids seem to be acquiring narcotics.

(Note: The term “staff member” describes a wide variety of people who work in the youth halls.)

There is no information yet about how the young man got the drugs that killed him this morning. Staff have reportedly been told by supervisors to treat the boy’s room as a crime scene, and not to clean things up.

“He was a really good kid,” said a female staff member, who had worked with the boy who died.

For the last three months, those in and around Barry J have told us that it is only blind luck that someone hasn’t died in the facility in the last few months, either a kid or an adult.

And now someone has. Specifically, a teenage boy in the county’s care.

Lack of compliance

Early in February,  the members of the California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) presented a report showing that Barry J. and Central juvenile halls were extravagantly out of compliance with state regulations when it comes to the most basic standards of care and safety for the young people in residence at the two facilities.

After the string of February non-fatal overdoses of youth, on March 7, of this year, the LA County Board of Supervisors fired Probation Chief Adolfo Gonzales, and replaced him with his second in command, Karen Fletcher, naming her as Interim Chief.

Yet, things did not improve measurably in the halls.

On April 4, the county took the unusual step of hiring Guillermo Viera Rosa in the newly created position of “Chief Strategist for Juvenile Operations” for the Los Angeles County Probation Department.

On Monday of last week, Karen Fletcher resigned from her position as Interim Chief, reportedly over a disagreement with Viera Rosa. She is scheduled to fully retire on May 19.

A few days after Fletcher’s announcement that she was retiring, Viera Rosa sent out a statement about the need to find solutions to the urgent problems facing the nation’s largest youth probation system.

“Now, more than ever, we need to partner with families, labor, and other stakeholders to ensure we are creating the best environment for our youth to succeed,” he wrote.

As we were reminded this morning, there is a long way to go.

“We have notified the family and will cooperate fully with law enforcement on a thorough investigation of the incident,” Viera Rosa said in today’s statement about the boy’s death. “We have also dispatched peer-support personnel and mental-health professionals to the facility for crisis counseling of youth and our staff.”

The BSCC and unsuitability

Meanwhile, on May 23, when the California Board of State and Community Corrections or BSCC next meets, the state oversight board will be forced by law to declare Barry J and Central Juvenile Hall “unsuitable for youth habitation.” 

This is an action that according to civil rights lawyer, Sean Garcia-Leys, director of the Peace and Justice Law Center (PJLC), should have taken place, legally speaking, at the last BSCC meeting in April. But it didn’t.

Instead, the board caved in to LA County’s pressure, and did not issue the required “unsuitable for youth habitation,” finding, the attorney said.

Now, in order to dodge a lawsuit that Garcia-Leys and PJLC, plus the Children’s Defense Fund, and the Youth Law Center were collectively about to file, the BSCC agreed that, indeed, it would issue the required “unsuitable” finding at its May 23 meeting.

LA County will then have 60 additional days to move nearly all the kids in residence at the two facilities somewhere else.

That somewhere else will probably be, at least in part, the now closed Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall, although how the move would cure the existing dysfunction that underlies the BSCC’s concerns is not clear.

At least some of the pre-dispositioned kids may be sent home. (Pre-disposition youth are kids who are charged with something but who have not had a “disposition” hearing, which is akin to a sentencing hearing in adult court.) 

As for the rest…although we hear that an area of Los Padrinos (LP) is in okay shape as, recently, it’s been serving as a shelter for adults. Much of the rest of LP is reportedly a mess.

In any event, it is our understanding that Barry J and Central Juvenile Halls will be closed to youth residence no later than July 23rd.

At least, mostly closed.

Weirdly, though, even after Barry J is deemed “unsuitable,” according to the BSCC, the SYTF youth will be able to remain in the Sylmar facility, because the state oversight doesn’t have legal jurisdiction over former DJJ youth.

Now, however, we are hearing that leaving the SYTF youth in place is not really legal either.

The CA AG speaks

And if that wasn’t enough, today California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a statement applauding a brand new court ruling granting a motion by the California DOJ to enforce a 2021 stipulated judgment against LA County Probation, requiring the county to remedy the “illegal and unsafe conditions of confinement at its two juvenile halls.”

AG Bonta called Tuesday’s court ruling “a necessary step forward to rehabilitating a broken system that must be reformed.”

Then Bonta wrote what many have been thinking all day.

The reports of a young life senselessly lost and young people endangered while in custody are horrifying and unacceptable.”


More soon. So watch this space.


  • I don’t want this to become an “attack” on Celeste. We are all frustrated with the state of conditions in the halls. The Probation Staff have been trying to alert people for years about these conditions. I’m pretty sure some Probation “officers” have brought in narcotics over the long existence of Juvenile Probation. But can you please IDENTIFY the word statf and let the readers know that there are more than just Probation Officers as “staff”. There are CBOs, interns, medical staff, Lacoe staff, kitchen staff, maintenance staff, construction staff, mental health staff, religious services staff, and a plethora of other “staff” that can waltz into the facilities daily. Let’s just identify that. Also I’m sure your sources have told you about the drugs that get thrown over the fences and dropped in by drones. Or believe it or not…parents actually bringing in the drugs also. So let’s just not try make it seem like it’s just “probation staff”.

  • Board of Supervisors and Administration are ones to blame. Emails and documentation have been written regarding the issues of drugs. Nothing is done. They blame probation staff but the ones to blame are the Directors and Board of supervisors for allowing the facility to be where it’s at. They are more focus on providing these “youth” (who are not youth,more like adults) hotspot, bringing them food, and letting them do whatever they want. Policy set in place by administration allow this to happen.

  • Advocates seek to weaponize concepts to achieve their agenda. Editorialist attempt to present facts that are opinions. Many staff manipulate their employment for personal gain.

    Staff (although not all staff but many) will continue to seek wages for not reporting to work. Commissioners will continue to hold meetings and present themselves as agents of change for a complex system they have little understanding of. Supervisors will continue to be loyalist to labor and political influencers. Juvenile Offenders will continue to engage in extremely violent offenses against members in their community, and those in population when detained.

    None of the above have any interest but their own.

  • Hey Nurse Manager Deborah and Georgia Foote Sam, I told you this was coming but you choose to ignore my multiple times of voicing concern and and decided to disregard. As for the multiple juveniles saved from overdoses in February, you are welcome.

  • I used to work here, and let me tell you. The managers/superviors/MOD/ DIRECTORS & EVERYBODY ELSE EXCEPT front line staff are at fault. Managers favor some staff due to their looks and not their skill set and place the favored (HOT) staff on EASY assignments that doesn’t pertain to supervising these young adults. While the other staff who are ugly in the (supervisor’s eyes) work BS and does tons of work while supervise these juveniles or can I say sophisticated LITTLE ADULTS.

    In other words, managers can’t hold their ____ together.

    oh yeah, these managers/supervisors/directors/ make the front line staff do all their paper work. WHEN ITS SUPPOSE TO BE THEIR JOB! These supervisors are scared to even walk in to these units ! So they are always in the front eating and watching playoffs or whatever. Don’t believe me? Audit the cameras where they sit. OH YEAH… let me tell you how they respond to situations, they take their sweet a** time to help front line staff. THEY EXPECT FROM LINE STAFF TO HANDLE THE SITUATION BEFORE THEY WALK IN (directors and supervisors &; senior on duty aka SORRY A** movement control) You want more details. Email me: ILL PUT THE WHOLE DEPARTMENT UNDER WATER. Email: probationissorry1@gmail.com. RIP ARMSTEAD &; WALL.

  • Movement control always sitting eating with 10 plus people chatting, ordering delivery, watching netflix, doing absolutely nothing. Like the man side audit the cameras. A probation officer got fired earlier this year for having sexual relations with a juvenile in the compound

  • How many deaths in La county jail in a year?
    When was the last juvenile that has died in JH?
    How many deaths in group homes or suitable placements?
    Do family members have criminal records too? Or how many of them are on probation and parole due to drug related offenses?
    Are security protocols relaxed because of advocates?
    Are there dogs allowed to search on a daily or weekly basis? Why or why not
    Do detainees cover their windows with paper, etch the windows or wipe deodorant to a point staff can’t look in? Do detainees also put wet paper on lights so it’s dark inside so staff won’t look in? If staff correct this, do detainees go bananas, and are there ramifications for their outburst?
    Just asking.

  • It is important to point out Secure Youth Track Facility is separate and distinct from Juvenile Hall. SYTF youth are those who have been adjudicated (convicted) and are post-disposition (sentencing). There is a completely different set of rules and standards for these youth.

    Also @Anonymous: Pull your head out of your a**. You have no idea how hard the staff in Movement Control are working. Your accusation sounds like sour grapes.

    @Mr. Unknown: You are pathetic and useless. Staff are placed by need and not by any other measure. Most of the staff on any given shift are either ordered to be deployed or have been reassigned to JH. You too can pull your head out of your A**, you fool.

  • Please pardon my rant…The current state of the Department largely lands in the lap of the Board of Supervisors. The decline started many years ago.

    The Board insisted on lowering the hiring standards for staff in our juvenile halls. That has expanded to overall hiring and promotions. Right now, there is no longer a polygraph for applicants and tif you stopped using weed six months prior, that’s okay. That is not to say for a moment that there are not some fantastic staff at our halls but during that initial change over to the DSO position, the department mass hired and people that were not a fit were brought on the job. This same lowering of standards applies to promotions. The need for diversity was often ignored in favor of friendships, leading to some truly inappropriate promotions.

    Let a disgruntled parent complain to the Board – here comes a new policy and the further relaxing of the rules, versus dealing directly with a particular incident and simply reviewing and tightening policies as needed.

    Youth advocates (not alll btw) decided that we just had too many rules and were too punitive and rough. Again, rather than tuning up what we were doing, there goes many effective sanctions, rules and our modified boot camps, which worked well. If there are not rules that are enforced with standards meaningful to the youth, there might as well not be any. If your kids break the rules, don’t you impose meaningful sanctions? A damn shame for those kids that do want to get it together.

    The Board decided that bringing in Chiefs from the outside was the answer. That’s sure worked well (sarcasm intended). This is the largest department of its type in the world with many systems and nuances to learn. Our outsider Chiefs (Acting Chief Remington exempted) simply parrot the latest hug a thug studies the Board believes. These Chiefs remain long enough to collect a second retirement and leave. Over approx. ten years, Probation has had the following people at the top (all from the outside): Chief Taylor, Acting Chief Remington, Chief Powers, Chief McDonald, Interim Chief Leyva, Chief Gonzales, Acting Chief Fletcher and now Interim Chief Viera Rosa. On average, a new Chief every 18 months. In terms of current leadership, Felicia Cotton should have been bumped up long ago.

    Staff became the enemy of the Board. Many are hard working people doing their best despite the loss of disciplinary and defensive tools and working with slugs that were hired that game the leave system. Deal with issues fairly; those that need to go, get rid of them. As situations dictate, support and train those staff that simply made a mistake.

    If the Board does not authorize staff to “take back” leadership of these facilities, they might as well be closed. The current Chief is begging for non-sworn admin. staff and LASD Reserves to work at the halls. Now why exactly would any of these people want to work at the halls? So they too can get beaten up?

    The years of erosion of standards at all levels have predictably led the agency to where it is today. There are certainly many other factors in this complex situation but in the end, it’s simple. When the parents (Probation, Education, etc) are not in charge, chaos reigns. Probation has youth and adults to help and to monitor closely because some are extremely dangerous, We have communities we are part of to help protect and support. I hope at some point the Board gets the hell out of the way and offers some support – including new juvenile halls. They should be embarrassed at what we currently have. Blessings to those still trying…

  • @mephis mike deville [WLA edit] My accusations are facts. I’m sure they work hard at some facilities but not this one, and that’s the least of the worries. How about you be proactive with all this vast experience you’re acting like you have and provide some solutions. We are all waiting.

Leave a Comment