The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is reviewing the deaths of two teens in separate apparent suicides within a three-week span at a Department of Children's Services facility that houses delinquent youth from across the state.
On Friday, staff at Mountain View Youth Development Center in East Tennessee discovered an unconscious 18-year-old who is believed to have hanged himself by tying a bed sheet to a wall-mounted bracket in his room. He died the next day at a local hospital. DCS officials have not released his name but said he was from White County and that staff were unaware of any previous signs he wanted to harm himself.
On July 13, a 16-year-old boy fatally hanged himself in his room as other teens left to shower, according to DCS officials. Brandon Greene had been on suicide watch at the facility several times since April but was taken off in the days before his death, according to his mother, Christine Greene.
Both incidents are being investigated by Dandridge police, a special investigations unit at DCS and medical examiners. On Wednesday, DCS chief Jim Henry requested that TBI and the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth review the incidents. An internal affairs division at DCS is reviewing staff performance for possible abuse or neglect.
"We want to make sure that we take a complete look at the circumstances surrounding these tragic, heartbreaking incidents," Henry said.
The deaths come a year after the department underwent a reorganization and change in leadership after multiple problems emerged, including a failure to keep track of deaths of children on its watch and a spike in violence at its youth detention facilities. The former DCS chief resigned, and Henry, her replacement, has pledged top-to-bottom improvements at the agency.
Mom: 'I have heard six different stories'
Greene said her son had been sent to the Dandridge facility after an arrest for vandalism and burglary at Johnson County High School in Mountain City in April, just weeks after his 16th birthday.
She said she has heard conflicting stories from officials about her son's death and is not convinced that he took his own life.
"That's what I'm driving myself nuts trying to figure out," she said. "So far, I have heard six different stories as to how, with what, when and how they found him. Six different stories. And Mountain View has yet to call me and tell me what happened."
Mountain View is one of three youth detention centers in Tennessee that house a total of 312 youths from across the state who have been found delinquent by juvenile courts and placed in state custody. Mountain View alone houses 115 teenage boys.
An attorney appointed to represent the civil rights of boys in two of DCS' other juvenile facilities — Woodland Hills Youth Development Center in Nashville and John S. Wilder Youth Development Center in Somerville — noted that mental health resources are limited for delinquent youth and he has seen children placed in the facilities simply because there was no place else to send them for treatment.
The attorney, Everette Parrish, said he is not privy to the specifics of the Mountain View teens' deaths, but noted the state procedures to follow to assess a child's mental health and rules to follow if any child shows he is at risk for suicide.
"It is vital for our state to have procedures in place to identify youth at risk, to place them away from harm and away from that risk," he said. "They need to pass this off to a mental health professional the minute they feel this is beyond their control. Obviously if a child has been on suicide watch several times and then they commit suicide, you have not done enough or read the signs."
The last death to occur in a DCS delinquent facility was in 2012, when 18-year-oldKendall Oates was found dead in his room at Woodland Hills after suffering a seizure. Before his death, a juvenile court judge had twice issued orders urging DCS to place Oates in a facility that could better address his medical and psychological needs. A Tennessean investigation found that Oates died with no trace of the anti-seizure medication DCS was supposed to administer in his system and that a guard who was supposed to check on him every 15 minutes did not. DCS settled a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Oates' father for $250,000 last year.
Brandon Charles Greene, 16, was taken off suicide watch in the days before his death at Mountain View Youth Development Center, according to his mother. DCS has not released the name of a second teen, who was discovered unconscious at the facility Friday and died the next day.
About the facility
Mountain View houses 115 teenage boys and is one of three youth detention centers in Tennessee that house a total of 312 youths from across the state who have been found delinquent by juvenile courts.