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Social services group sued in teen detainee suicide case

April 24, 2018

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) — The estate of a teen who died by suicide while detained is suing a county youth services agency and its employees who operated the juvenile detention center.

Billy Woods’ estate filed the lawsuit against the Muskogee County Council of Youth Services and four of its employees, the Muskogee Phoenix reported. Co-defendants include the county Board of Commissioners, the Office of Juvenile Affairs and its executive director.

The 16-year-old was found dead in his cell at the Muskogee County Regional Juvenile Detention Center in December 2016 while detained for a curfew violation.

The lawsuit alleges that Woods was known to be a “suicide risk” and that the council and its employees did little to reduce the risk. Daniel E. Smolen, a lawyer representing the estate, alleges that one employee also exacerbated the situation by ridiculing and belittling the teen.

The complaint says employees prepared daily notes purporting to show they had checked on Woods every 15 minutes, but that a surveillance video reviewed later “proves that none of these purported welfare checks actually occurred.” It references findings of an investigation conducted by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ Office of Client Advocacy after Woods’ death.

Youth Services Board Chairwoman Evelyn Hibbs has declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The juvenile detention center was operated by MCCOYS for 19 years before terminating its contract in 2016.

The center’s governing board determined the organization was “unable to absorb the ongoing occupancy expenses with no opportunity for reimbursement ... due to the temporary closure of the facility” after Woods’ death.

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Information from: Muskogee Phoenix, http://www.muskogeephoenix.com

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