DANDRIDGE, Tenn. — Juvenile inmates at Mountain View Academy for Young Men smoked cigarettes, marijuana and warned guards who tried to control them that they'd better stay away.

For several days in December, they gorged on online pornography they accessed on gaming equipment thanks to an internet cable provided by a worker at the Dandridge center.

Leave us alone," the teens told employees. We've never seen this many naked women in our lives.

Some tried to print out copies of porn images from a computer, hoping for a keepsake. The boys didn't get the printouts, but their print commands did go through. Center employees discovered the hardcore images printed out on multiple printers in Mountain View buildings.

Three current and two former employees described the tense, sometimes chaotic conditions at the state-owned center for WBIR, which has been reporting on an array of problems there since November. WBIR is not identifying the three current employees because they fear losing their jobs.

A TrueCore sign outside Mountain View Academy
A TrueCore signed erected outside the Mountain View Academy in Dandridge.
WBIR

TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, a Florida-based treatment provider, oversaw Mountain View starting in July 2017 for the state. This week, responding to an inquiry from 10News, the state Department of Children's Service confirmed it was cutting ties with TrueCore by the end of this month.

Besides Mountain View, TrueCore ran three centers in Davidson County. According to its website, its programs "serve more than 1,500 young men and women each day and employ more than 1,900 staff" in three states.

On Friday night, DCS issued a statement to WBIR from Commissioner Jennifer Nichols.

"“We are aware of the recent allegations regarding the problems at Mountain View. Though no youth have escaped, I am ever mindful of our responsibility to ensure that the youth in state custody, as well as the communities in which they live, are safe and secure," Nichols' statement reads.

The former judge and prosecutor goes on: "We have identified the provider who we intend to assume responsibility of operations at Mountain View. In fact, the provider has met with the Jefferson County mayor, the Dandridge police chief and his lieutenant, the Dandridge town administrator and the Jefferson County attorney.

Jennifer Nichols
Jennifer Nichols, DCS commissioner
State of Tennessee Photographic Services

"The immediate focus will be on the safety and security of the facility, and that focus was communicated clearly to the same city and county officials.”

A TrueCore spokesman hasn't responded to a request for comment.

Since 2016, police have been called to address riots, assaults on employees, vandalism, escape attempts and other incidents at least 50 times. Multiple Tennessee law enforcement agencies have responded several times to quell unrest since July, records show.

RELATED: Operator of troubled Dandridge youth center will be out by end of the month, state says

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RELATED: Records: At least 50 incidents of violence, unrest at Mountain View since 2016

RELATED: Police bodycam video, 911 recordings reveal Nov. 3 unrest at youth center

RELATED: It took 24 officers to contain inmates at Mountain View facility in incident 1st reported as medical call

RELATED: Fire, escape attempt and a riot: Police called several times to subdue Mountain View juvenile inmates

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Not all the incidents happened under TrueCore's watch, records show. Many, however, have.

Employees tell 10News they've been pressed to work double shifts to make up for short staffing. They describe incidents in which one worker needing help with an unruly young inmate would have to call repeatedly for backup that sometimes would take many minutes.

Month by month since 2019, they say, the juvenile residents have destroyed windows, electrical sockets and furniture. Maintenance, a current employee said, "can't keep up."

Damage inside Charlie Unit after the "riot" and fire Nov. 3.
Officers found disarray when they entered Mountain View's Charlie Unit after 9 p.m. Nov. 3.
Jefferson City PD

The boys, the employee said, "basically are doing what they want."

"The majority of the staff is getting assaulted," said former shift supervisor Beverly Stroupe. "The youth are destroying everything. It's on a day-to-day basis that they're breaking windows out. They're breaking TVs. They refuse to go to school."

Not all the inmates are causing disturbances, employees said. But enough pose a threat that Stroupe fears staff are in danger.

TOBACCO AND WEED

Mountain View has operated for decades in Dandridge. It's got a reputation as a place with heightened security to house serious young offenders.

In 2017, TrueCore took over as operator from DCS, leasing the center.

As part of an emerging trend, the state's intent was to de-emphasize traditional corrections approaches and offer more treatment-based options for juveniles.

Mountain View houses young men convicted in the juvenile system on offenses as serious as murder as well as others that are much more minor. The goal is to rehabilitate them so they can go on to be productive citizens.

The fenced-in grounds include a self-contained "hardware-secure" unit commonly referred to as the "Charlie" unit with up to 24 beds. Mountain View also has 60 other beds in a "non-secure" area.

Current employees tell 10News this week's total population is only about 24.

Charlie unit is where many -- but not all -- of the recent problems have occurred, current and former employees say.

"What the people at home don't realize is that we're doing all we can to keep control at that facility, and these kids are acting out like that because literally they're acting like caged animals," said Andrew Romine, who worked at Mountain View in 2017 and 2018 as a youth care worker, or guard.

A current employee who asked that their name not be used said some boys in Charlie are smoking tobacco whenever they like. Workers know because they can smell it.

Current employee at Mountain View
A current Mountain View employee talks with 10News about what it's been like at the center under TrueCore.
WBIR

They're also smoking marijuana. Guards and staff members can tell because of the smell and the way they act.

Contraband is being smuggled in either by staff members or through visits by family members, employees said.

On Super Bowl Sunday, the center held a party with pizza and wings as a treat for the teens. 

"The kids were acting so stoned," one of the current employees said. "They were acting silly and goofy."

Early this week, authorities brought in dogs to search for prohibited substances, employees said.

The inmates, however, aren't dumb.

"If (inmates) see them coming, all you hear is toilets flushing, so you're not going to find anything," another current employee said.

The inmates light their cigarettes and weed by jimmying the plates off the electrical sockets and creating a spark, workers said.

DAYS OF PORN

In December around Christmastime, two current employee said, some of the teens used an ethernet cable they weren't supposed to have to access online porn via a video game console.

What officers saw at Mountain View Nov. 6
Extra police were called to help restore order after a disturbance Nov. 6, 2019, at Mountain View Academy for Young Men in Dandridge.
Police bodycam

A guard had provided it so they could play video games.

"I guess the guard who gave them the cable was not aware that it accesses the full Internet," one of the current employees said.

For several days the boys refused to do much but watch porn. They cautioned a worker not to bother them, saying they'd never seen so much sex and wanted to enjoy it, one of the employees said.

According to one of the current employees, a guard acted as a casual lookout so they wouldn't get caught.

Some of the boys wanted to make printouts of what they saw. They hit print on a computer, but there were no printers within their reach.

When employees came back to work, however, they got an eyeful. The inmates' printouts came out on various printers in the building, a current employee said.

The current aim among many Mountain View employees is to appease the inmates, to keep them happy.

Two current employees said inmates have warned some staff members to stay away if they don't want trouble. One of the current workers said they've been told directly by inmates that they're not welcome.

Said another current employee: "It's to the point that the kids are dictating what staff gets assigned to what unit -- to keep the peace."

They're supposed to be in bed by 9 p.m. on weekdays and 10 p.m. on weekends. As of this week, however, that hardly applied.

"They stay up until 2, 3, 4 o'clock in the morning," a current employee said. "Whatever they want."

Mountain View sign
A sign outside the Mountain View Department of Children's Services facility in Dandridge, Tenn.

SAFETY CONCERNS

Stroupe, Romine and the three current employees say they worry about the staff's safety. WBIR interviewed them before the state announced it was ceasing ties with TrueCore.

None of the staff carry weapons. They are trained to use passive restraint techniques to make the boys comply.

Andrew Romine, former Mountain View youth worker
Andrew Romine said guards often faced threats from inmates under TrueCore's watch.
WBIR

During 2017 and 2018 when Romine worked at Mountain View, he said the mindset was to leave work the same way everyone came in: "On your own two feet."

Even so, he said, that sometimes didn't happen.

Staffing numbers slipped while Romine was at Mountain View, he said.

If a disturbance among the teens got out of hand, employees would have to back off.

"We were completely overpowered, outnumbered and we had no help," he said. "We had to wait for it to calm down."

Numerous Dandridge police reports confirm Romine's recollections. If matters started to get out of hand, such as in November when an inmate set a small fire, the staff would have to turn to police for a stronger hand.

Romine said he worked at Mountain View until late 2018 when he was suspended after being charged in a warrant with child abuse or neglect in Sevier County. Court records show the case was put under "advisement" and resolved.

Several of those WBIR talked with said they thought working conditions were better and more orderly when the state still ran Mountain View. Boys might still act up, but the problems weren't as pronounced.

In days past, a teen would never hit a female employee, one current worker said. As records confirm, that happens with regularity now.

Beverly Stroupe, former Mountain View employee
Beverly Stroupe said employees faced far fewer assaults from inmates when the state ran the facility.
WBIR

"We had assaults, but nothing like this," Stroupe said.

The inmates also are different, a current employee said. They're more unpredictable and more unbalanced, the employee said.

Stroupe worked 15 years at Mountain View, 13 while it was under the state's supervision. She left in September 2019.

By the time she left, she said, TrueCore management was "letting their students run amok."

She recalled one incident she knew of personally in which a staff member was assaulted by teens in a unit in the morning, went to the hospital for medical attention and then came back to work.

"They sent him back to the same unit and they (the inmates) beat him up again,"  she said.