Officials call for closure of troubled Bridge City facility after escapes, assaults, riot

Published: Jun. 17, 2022 at 4:46 PM CDT
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JEFFERSON PARISH, La. (WVUE) - A state senator and parish councilmembers are calling for the closure of the Bridge City Center for Youth after inmates took over a portion of the facility, causing a riot, and six breakouts in as many months.

Thursday morning, five inmates, all of whom have been recaptured, cut a hole in the bathroom ceiling and jumped the fence. It was the facility’s sixth escape since the beginning of the year.

Around 10 p.m. that same day, 20 inmates broke out of their living quarters and took over a portion of the facility, including the infirmary, injuring an employee and one of the incarcerated youth.

Dozens of Jefferson Parish SWAT team members were called to control the chaos Thursday night, which lasted until after midnight.

Bride City Youth Center riot overnight
Bride City Youth Center riot overnight

Sen. Patrick Connick says a nurse locked herself in a closet and was safely rescued by SWAT team members who were going from dorm to dorm rounding up the juveniles.

“We want it gone,” Sheila Veal, who lives near the facility, says. “Not tomorrow. Today. This is getting to be a habit.”

Since the beginning of the year, 14 inmates have escaped the facility.

More: Violence, abuse, and escapes plague the juvenile justice system in Louisiana

“It’s too big to monitor the children they have now,” a former guard told Fox 8.

The Director of the OJJ, Bill Sommers, admits there are serious problems within his office. He says there is a manpower issue and believes the dormitory-style sleeping quarters for the juvenile inmates are nothing but trouble.

“At night time, youth are in a dorm, but they are free to move around to go and do what they do. They end up ganging up on other kids, and other staff, and when that happens, that’s when you have the issues. That’s when you have the escapes. That’s when you have the violence,” said Sommers.

Connick is calling for the closure of Bridge City.

“I saw a 12-year-old boy with a 19-year-old man in the same cell and same conditions. What chances does a 12-year-old have in this environment?” Connick said.

Jefferson Parish council members will take up a resolution next week calling for the closure of the detention center, something many Bridge City residents support after multiple major incidents.

“You have murderers and rapists,” Veal said. “Everything adults do, these kids have done and I don’t trust them.”

“We are not going to sit back and let things happen,” council member Ricky Templet said. “We are going to take action.”

Connick said Governor John Bel Edwards assured him that additional staff will be on hand at the facility in the coming days, including state police troopers.

Work will reportedly begin at Jetson Correctional Center in Baker to properly house, secure, and supervise up to 30 violent offenders.

“We are in conversations about the longer term solution and nothing is off the table. The issues are complex, but chief among them is the lack of employees and the major disrepair of the Bridge City campus. We have been working with Deputy Secretary Bill Sommers to address the issues and will continue to do so. Our commitment has always been to keep the youth secure while supporting their rehabilitation and we have not and will not waiver from that,” Gov. Edwards said in a statement.

“I am confident that the governor is committed to making this right and hopefully we are moving in the right direction,” Connick said.

In April, authorities say 19-year-old Jonathan Sheard convinced three other inmates to help him jump a female guard in the bathroom, steal her keys, and jump over the fence. He was on the run for over a month until police were able to recapture him.

Less than a month before that, five incarcerated youth escaped through the attic of the Bridge City center on March 17, an incident the detention center attributed in part to “human error.” Four of those escapees were recaptured after allegedly stealing a truck in Jefferson Parish and leading officers on a chase that ended in a crash in Opelousas.

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