As it happened, officials say, Antoine Travell Davis stood by the cell’s doorway, laughing as a group of delinquent teens sexually assaulted a 15-year-old boy who, just minutes before, was sitting on a couch watching television.
Davis is not a minor sent to live at the Walton Academy for Growth and Change, one of Florida’s residential facilities for troubled juveniles. He was an employee, contracted by the state of Florida to, presumably, supervise the teens. But according to the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, Davis, 27, watched from a few feet away, egging on the group of four teenagers as they sodomized the 15-year-old with a travel-size shampoo bottle.
Davis, who is facing criminal charges, is not the first staffer to face similarly disturbing accusations in Florida’s juvenile system. As one public defender once described to the Miami Herald, the state’s troubled teenagers have, for years, been turned into enforcers tasked with beating fellow detainees in exchange for rewards. The Herald’s groundbreaking investigation, “Fight Club,” uncovered a system “beset by lax hiring standards, low pay, sexual misconduct and beatings bought for the price of a pastry,” a system where even sexual predators were hired to safeguard the state’s delinquents.
Almost nothing is publicly known about Davis’s history before he worked at the Walton Academy for Growth and Change, a 39-bed facility in a small Florida Panhandle town, or what exactly his job was. Florida officials referred personnel questions to Rites of Passage, a Nevada-based contractor that works with the state. The company’s human resource officer has not responded to requests for comment.
In a statement, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice said the incident is under investigation.
“DJJ does not tolerate this type of behavior and the contracted staff person involved in the incident has been terminated,” the agency said. “Their actions are inexcusable, and it is our expectation that they be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”
The July 5 911 call to the facility in DeFuniak Springs, Fla., was over a fight involving several juveniles. Two teenagers grabbed the victim as he was watching television in the common room, carried him down the hall and toward a cell, which Davis had just unlocked, according to a probable-cause document. Inside the cell, two other teenagers were waiting, and all four — DeQuan Myers, Berkley Bell and Brian Burton, all 17, and Walter Harvey, 16 — forced the victim onto the bed with his face down and sexually assaulted him, documents say.
Surveillance footage later showed Davis standing by the cell’s doorway for one to two minutes. He “appears to be laughing,” documents say.
The alleged assault lasted only a few minutes, and the teen was able to free himself, pulling up his pants as he walked out of the cell. Upset, he began throwing items in the common areas. He confronted Davis, whom he saw sitting at a table, writing up the teen for his behavior, documents say. The victim snatched the paper from Davis, who stood up, grabbed the teen by his shirt and shoved him onto another table.
Later, authorities say, one of the teen suspects shook hands with Davis.
A witness who spoke with investigators corroborated the victim’s account of what happened.
Davis denied the allegations, and the public defender’s office, which represents him, declined to comment. He told investigators he did not know about the incident — even as he said the teens were “just horse playing” and claimed he “could not recall” why he was laughing as he stood by the cell’s doorway.
The teen suspects were each charged Thursday with false imprisonment and lewd and lascivious battery. It was not immediately clear whom their attorneys are. Davis is facing similar charges and an additional battery charge. He is being held on a $100,000 bond.
The charges against Davis come just a few months after a former Florida juvenile detention officer was indicted on civil rights charges for his role in the beating death of a 17-year-old detainee, federal officials announced in April.
Officials say Antwan Lenard Johnson, 35, “operated a commonly utilized bounty system” to ensure obedience and respect from detainees. He “encouraged and induced” these detainees to assault Elord Revolte. In exchange, the juveniles were rewarded. Revolte died Aug. 31, 2015.
The charges against Johnson followed an investigation by the Miami Herald, which described Revolte’s final moments in excruciating detail.
“I hit him. He swung two punches. He hit me,” said one of several teens who pounced on the 17-year-old, according to the Herald’s report. “I swung one punch, and then I grabbed his shirt and hit him again. Then I slammed him on his head, and I hit him. … All my friends, they start jumping over the chairs, while Elord was on the floor, and they went to stomping on him.”