Two Juveniles Escape Custody In Two Days; DCS Criticized
by Heather Graf
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Two escapes in two days have some asking some serious questions about how the Department of Children's Services is handling the juveniles in its custody.
Metro Police were notified at about 10:15 a.m. on Tuesday that 15-year-old Santonio Jenkins had escaped. He was being transported by a contractor who works for DCS, from Nashville's Juvenile Justice Center to a facility in Shelby County.
Now, News Channel 5 has learned another escape happened just the day before. This one, too, involved a juvenile in DCS custody.
"He'd been at a hearing in our building," said Bill Kostrub. who is the Director of Security for the juvenile court of Davidson County. "For some reason, he was unrestrained. DCS decided not to restrain him while they were transporting him to the vehicle."
Surveillance cameras at the justice center were rolling as that teen and a DCS case worker left the building. The video shows the teen distancing himself from the worker, and then when the worker turns his back for a few moments, the teen takes off.
It just so happened that Kostrub, a magistrate, and several other juvenile court employees were leaving for lunch just as that attempted escape took place.
It was them, and not the DCS worker, who chased after the teen and caught him.
"Yeah, I happened to look over my shoulder and saw a white shirt running, and there's no other reason that would happen," he said. "He was maybe a hundred yards from the gate, so we got him pretty quickly."
Juvenile Court Judge Betty Adams Green said the video of that escape is concerning, to say the least.
"First of all, I'm not sure at all my why the sally port wasn't used," she said. "It is a secure area for the pick-up and drop-off of individuals that might be tempted to run. The second issue is the fact that he was just kind of ambling across the parking lot, and the young man in the video, you'll notice, puts more and more distance between himself and the officer."
Judge Adams Green wants everyone to know that the escapes aren't happening under the watch of her staff.
She also would like some answers from DCS.
"I would like to think the DCS would be disturbed by having two run in two days, under very similar situations," she said. "And I know they have the protocols, they have the procedures, the have extensive training, and I think they'll probably take a look at it. I would certainly hope so."
One immediate change she's putting in place is requiring all DCS workers to bring juveniles in and out of court using the secure sally port.
"I'm not willing to have my officers at risk, quite honestly, so at this point, with Judge Green's guidance, we're going to be a little more demanding," said Kostrub.
NewsChannel 5 took the judge's concerns to DCS, where a spokesperson gave us pages and pages of department policy and protocol, and said both Tuesday's escape and Monday's near-escape will be fully investigated.
She also said restraints such as handcuffs and shackles are used on a case-by-case basis.
The teen who tried to escape Monday was being transferred to a foster care facility. DCS said he wasn't considered to be a violent offender, and that's why he wasn't shackled.
Still, the juvenile court staff said charges included resisting arrest and armed robbery.
Police, meanwhile, are still looking for Santonio Jenkins. His confinement is related to a probation violation. He was last seen wearing leg shackles with an 18-inch spread, blue sweat pants and a white shirt.
Judge Adams Green said escapes like this have the potential to be incredibly dangerous, for both the individual involved and the community.
"A young man on the run like this, they're not thinking like they should," she said.
A magistrate was injured while apprehending the teen who tried to escape on Monday, but he is expected to be okay.
Statement from the Department of Children's Services:
DCS is reviewing the circumstances surrounding the two
incidents this week in Davidson County Juvenile Court. Video surveillance from
the court will be evaluated as part of the review, and appropriate action will
be taken based on review findings. We will be happy to share the results when
the reviews are complete.
DCS has approximately 8,000 children in custody and is
responsible for transporting a large number of youth each day. The department
has comprehensive policies and procedures in place to keep children and youth
safe during transport. If a youth escapes, law enforcement is notified and the
department works to develop an individualized child safety plan to reduce the
likelihood of a reoccurrence. The department may also respond with
administrative action, which could include policy revisions or employee
discipline, when necessary.