ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Four Monroe County Sheriff's deputies and one detention center worker are recovering from injuries after a fight broke out at the Monroe County Children’s Detention Center this weekend.
The county announced Monday that five adolescent offenders, all 17 years old, have been transferred to a special section of the Monroe County Jail as a result of the fight. Two are charged with murder and three other charged with first-degree robbery. The county says they are being housed away from the general population, and that to facilitate the transfer, the county received approval from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services and New York State Commission of Correction.
“The Juvenile Detention Center, it’s best to describe it, it’s almost like a military barracks,” said Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter. “It has rooms that can be locked, but most often they’re out in general areas, common areas.”
The secure detention facility is located in Rush and houses a maximum of 31 youth up to the age of 18 who are awaiting their day in court. Law enforcement does not work there, but sometimes deputies come when staffing is low, as was the case this past weekend when a fight broke out.
“It popped off really quick,” Baxter said. “They were throwing punches at each other.”
When deputies intervened, taking the two suspects into custody, the sheriff said four others jumped the deputies.
“They literally attacked, blindsided the two deputies while they were down on the ground, slamming a chair over their head, and then just the typical chaos fight occurred,” he said. “One of the deputies was body-slammed, I mean literally raised above the subject and slammed onto the hard surface. That civilian staff member that works there was actually choked during this incident.”
On Saturday, the facility was one bed shy of being at full capacity. The sheriff’s office says of the 30 adolescent offenders there, 10 are charged with murder and two others charged with attempted murder.
“It’s quite an intense population,” the sheriff said. “You won't find that in the Monroe County Jail, that ratio. That's quite intense. You're asking a lot of the staff out there. And kids that are facing that type of charge might not see a lot in their future, might not have a lot of hope, may not have a lot to look forward to. And with that, that just creates a more dangerous environment.”
The Monroe County commissioner of human services said this behavior is not uncommon there, and she’s calling for change.
“Regarding the incident on Saturday, this is what our staff deals with on a daily basis," said Commissioner Thalia Wright.
She said, in recent months, youth detention workers are walking out the door faster than they are walking in.
“On any given day, we do not have enough staff right now to pretty much cover all of our shifts," said Wright.
New York state mandates that youth detention facilities have a minimum of one staff per seven adolescent offenders on each shift 24 hours a day. On Saturday, there were five for the day at the Detention Center.
“Fantastic staff, but they are burnt out,” Wright said. “Those staff that have been there, we hire them today and they resign tomorrow.”
When asked if her staff is scared, she answered, “Absolutely, absolutely.”
What may be triggering this?
“Well, this is obviously the result of Raise the Age, right? When we remove 16 to 17 year olds out of local jails across the state," said Baxter.
The sheriff said the Raise the Age law can be appropriate, but a one size fits all plan isn’t reasonable.
“The fact is, you have to look at these people and say, alright, this person's wanted for a murder, a very violent murder,” Baxter said. “Could we petition a court and have them remanded somewhere else or could we petition a court and have maybe remanded at a local jail in a special wing of a jail because they're so dangerous? That's what I'm looking for.”
Wright is hoping the state will consider changes.
“Looking at the population that is truly coming in is discerning,” Wright said. "Is there an opportunity when we look at some of the charges, the gang affiliations, the missions of co-defendants, to be able to take pause and maybe plan a little differently?”