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Records show hundreds of assaults inside Washington juvenile lockup

A KING 5 investigation revealed staff members at a Washington state maximum-security juvenile lockup are often the targets of attacks.

Surveillance video shows the moment Chris Stubblefield’s world went dark.

Seventeen-year-old Darrius Bruton runs toward Stubblefield from behind, then delivers a knock-out punch to the side of Stubblefield’s head.

The punch sent Stubblefield to the ground, stunned. Bruton then stomps on Stubblefield’s head. The violent attack is over in a matter of seconds.

The incident happened inside the D wing of the Spruce Unit at Green Hill School, Washington’s maximum-security lockup for older, male juvenile offenders. It’s a facility where violence is all too routine, a KING 5 investigation finds.

Records provided by the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) reveal that 69 assaults – most of them cases of residents assaulting staff members – were reported to police in Chehalis, where Green Hill is located.

Chris Stubblefield was just one of those cases.

“My life wasn’t worth much at that facility,” says Stubblefield, who was never able to return to work as a Green Hill security officer after the January 2018 assault.

During the two-year period from March 2016 to March 2018, an additional 409 assaults occurred that were not reported to police, according to Green Hill incident report records obtained by KING 5 through a public records request. The facility is home to up to 244 of Washington’s most dangerous juvenile offenders.

Some current and former staff members say DSHS isn’t doing enough to protect them. They say security officers are often working alone for long periods of time in Green Hill housing wings, as Stubblefield was the night that he was attacked.

“If he hadn’t been by himself, he probably wouldn’t have been attacked,” said Cody Cates, a former Green Hill security officer who responded to the D wing soon after Stubblefield was beaten.

“The issue with staffing is that nine times out of ten there isn’t enough,” said Cates, who quit his job at Green Hill in May and now lives on the east coast.

According to federal rules, juvenile institutions are generally required to have a 1:8 staff to resident ratio.

Cates says he saw instances where one staff member oversaw 10 or more juveniles, and to make the staffing levels look better, he said Green Hill administrators would count supervisors and managers as part of the floor staff.

“A lot of times they have things to do in the office. They’ve got supervisor and program work to do and just a ton of work to do, which doesn’t leave them time to work the floor,” Cates said.

“There are times when we are single-staffed in wings, and I would be lying to say more staff wouldn’t be ideal,” said Green Hill Superintendent Jennifer Redman.

“In general, I feel it’s a safe environment. Do we work with a risky population? Absolutely,” Redman said.

The Green Hill superintendent disputed claims by Cates and other employees that the facility is improperly inflating its staff count to meet the required minimum. She said managers are not counted as floor staff “because they are in and out of the unit a lot doing administrative functions.”

But a manager’s email from August, provided to KING 5 by a current Green Hill employee, instructed staff, “You can count supervisors and PM (program managers) in the numbers” to meet the facility’s “need for 1:8 staff to youth.”

“I need this done Friday as it may be part of the audit,” wrote administrator Lori Nesmith in the email.

Redman said that email reflected confusion at the time about whether program managers could be included in the staff headcount – a matter that has since been sorted out.

Cates says administrators are under pressure to meet their budgets and “look good to Olympia.” He says they resist keeping residents locked in their rooms for longer periods, which can be ordered when staffing levels are low.

Green Hill’s superintendent confirmed that locking residents in their rooms is not a preferred approach.

“It’s not desirable because anytime you have you in their room for long periods of time it agitates them. It’s not good for kids,” Redman said.

Redman says she has acted to reduce the number of assaults. She says staffing procedures have been changed, and more care is taken when kids are moved around the campus so rival gang members – for instance – will not have as much contact.

“In 2018, we cut our assaults in half,” Redman said.

The current trend is to incarcerate fewer juveniles, and that has reduced Green Hill’s population. But that also means that the kids who are sentenced there are the most troubled, violent, and difficult to treat.

Darrius Bruton was convicted in Lewis County Superior Court of assaulting Chris Stubblefield and was sentenced to more time at Green Hill School.

Within weeks of receiving that sentence, he was accused of attacking another staff member at Green Hill.  Again, he is charged in adult court and is awaiting trial.

Stubblefield believes administrators need to protect the kids and the school – and the staff.

“It was like watching myself dying,” said Stubblefield about his videotaped attack.

Follow Chris Ingalls on Twitter @CJIngalls.

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