State youth facility in Fayette County damaged in Sunday riot; 11 teenagers charged as adults

Updated: Sep. 23, 2019 at 5:46 PM CDT
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SOMERVILLE, Tenn. (WMC) - Eleven teenagers housed at the Wilder Youth Development Center near Somerville face new criminal charges after hours of violence at the facility Sunday night, including broken windows, mirrors, doors and more.

Jennifer Nichols, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, and Mark Davidson, district attorney general for the 25th Judicial District, were on site in Fayette County Monday to tour the facility and look at the damage left behind from the apparent riot.

The 11 arrested, all 18 years old, were booked into the Fayette County Detention Center Sunday on preliminary charges of vandalism, escaping the custody of an officer and inciting a riot. By Monday morning all 11 had been arraigned, appearing before a Fayette County judge.

“We are all still looking into what happened, and what caused it,” said Nichols. “We believe it started in one area and escalated from there.”

State officials said there is damage in many different pods of the Wilder Youth Development Center, a hardware secure facility run by DCS, which houses teenage boys found delinquent in serious offenses and sent by juvenile courts.

Sunday’s violence started around 5 p.m. and took four hours to contain. Investigators said ceilings were damaged as well as doors and mirrors by youth using cinder blocks to try to break windows.

Officials wouldn’t specify Monday whether they believe the violence was spontaneous or orchestrated but said no youth ever escaped at any time during the disturbance. They also said no staff members were injured.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol sent strike teams and air support, and the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office helped secure the perimeter.

“We owe a huge thanks to the sheriff here in Fayette County as well as to the Department of Safety and the Department of Correction, who all responded in an effort to help,” said Nichols.

Leaders declined to say the total number of youth involved, but they did tell WMC Action News 5 some juveniles had already been moved away and could face additional punishment.

The state allows juveniles found delinquent to stay in Wilder until age 19.

Eight of the 11 charged in Fayette County in Sunday’s incident are from the Memphis area. The juvenile offenses for which they’ve been found delinquent won’t be revealed, officials said.

“DCS is here gathering photographs and videos and compiling a lot of evidence. The Highway Patrol filed some charges. There may be more forthcoming. They’re also investigating from a law enforcement perspective,” said Davidson.

Davidson said investigators are still assessing the amount of damage done, and it’s possible as a result of that assessment that charges could be operated. Leaders did not provide a preliminary estimation figure with respect to damage.

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