GOLDEN, Colo. — The FOX31 Problem Solvers have obtained exclusive video of the May 1 riot at Lookout Mountain Youth Services Center that injured 11 staff members, sending two of them to the hospital.
Three more staff members, all of them females, were injured Tuesday night breaking up a fight between rival gang members. Two of the injured females are now on “Injured on the Job” status, meaning they may be on leave for several days to recover from what have been described as concussion-like injuries.
FOX31 also learned that the facility director resigned on Wednesday.
It’s still not clear what instigated a dozen youth inmates back on May 1 to attack staff members with fists and furniture, but video shows an all-out brawl, including one staff member being attacked from behind when he tried to de-escalate tensions with a teen.
Footage from a neighboring pod shows one boy kicking through a glass door in order to join the fight.
Staff members appear unable and sometimes unwilling to tackle the boy who was attempting to leave his pod to join the riot. At one point, it’s another youth inmate who tackles the boy to keep him from joining fight in the neighboring pod, though his efforts ultimately fail.
“It’s difficult to watch any video where staff or youth are being assaulted or harmed,” said Anders Jacobson, the director of Colorado’s Division of Youth Services. He sat down with the Problem Solvers for a one-one-one interview to discuss what’s been a difficult two months at Lookout Mountain, admitting the facility has suffered from under-staffing.
The youth services center is meant to house 140 juvenile male offenders, but that requires a staff of 150.
On the day the Problem Solvers interviewed Jacobson, the facility had 30 vacancies, plus five staffers on leave because of on-the-job injuries and another 17 relegated to light duty, meaning no contact with inmates.
“That’s a third of your potential staff members who can’t be having contact with kids. How problematic is that?” asked investigative reporter Rob Low to Jacobson, who responded, “It’s one of the reasons why we’ve reduced the census by a third as well.”
Since mid-May, Lookout Mountain has transferred 45 juvenile inmates to other juvenile correctional centers and the state Division of Youth Services has brought in new leadership to operate the facility.
The decision follows not just the riot on May 1 but a series of bad headlines that have plagued Lookout Mountain since April. That month, FOX31 reported on a death threat considered so credible, the facility kept five staff members at home on a day there were rumors of an impending riot.
Later that month, a supervisor at Lookout Mountain named Joseph Forrest was charged by the Jefferson County District Attorney on charges of possessing child porn.
He’s been placed on paid administrative leave ever since.
Then, on May 1, there was the actual riot involving about a dozen inmates and a similar number of staff. That same day, three staffers were placed on administrative leave after an inmate accused the three employees of bringing drugs into the facility. All three of the staffers have since been cleared to return to work.
On May 6, two inmates escaped from Lookout Mountain in the middle of the night, using bed sheets to climb out of a window they had busted out.
Javier Madera, 19, and Emilio Dominguez, 17, were caught the next day. Both are convicted sex offenders who under state policy are not normally supposed to be roomed together. When asked why they were allowed to be roommates, Jacobson replied, “I’m still investigating that now.”
Jacobson confirmed the night guard who was supposed to be checking on Madera and Dominguez every 15 minutes to make sure they were asleep has been placed on paid administrative leave.
“Looking to bring a lot of systems back that we had in place that have dissolved, quite frankly, over the last year,” said Jacobson.
The biggest challenge at Lookout Mountain has been maintaining a ratio of one staff member per eight inmates during daytime hours.
A public records request revealed that from April 2018 to April 2019, the facility has had a turnover rate of 42 percent. Starting salary for a youth services guard is about $42,500 a year.
“You can find easier work, in some cases, for more pay,” said Jacobson, who added that this year, Colorado lawmakers approved more funding that would allow pay raises of up to 25 percent over a 2-year period.
“It’s key we bring up salaries. In our business, recruitment and — most importantly — retention is key to safety and security,” said Jacobson.
But security doesn’t mean guards can be armed with mace or a taser, despite the wishes of what some staffers have anonymously told the Problem Solvers.
“I would say you can hold youth accountable and you can provide a safe environment outside of using weapons,” said Jacobson.
Again, multiple staffers have told FOX31 they disagree, saying there needs to be more options to hold juvenile offenders accountable when they misbehave or get violent. Multiple staffers said strip searches should become standard after family and friend visits because contraband has increased dramatically inside the secure facility.
“We are not at a place where we’re looking to go back to automatic full strip searches on all youth,” Jacobson said. However, he added K-9 dog searches may become more common.
Jacobson also admitted Lookout Mountain does not have security cameras in the visitation rooms and acknowledged the facility could use far more cameras than the 50 to 60 he estimated it currently has.
“We are interested to put a (camera) system in place. It’s costly and there’s a process we have to go through,” he said.
Golden police tell the Problem Solvers there were no security cameras in the outdoor area where Madera and Dominguez made their escape on May 6.
Jacobson said one of his first priorities is to add more staff, noting 13 guards were hired at recruiting event in May.
“I’m encouraged where we are at today. But there’s a long road ahead,” he said.