Sevierville boy in DCS custody says caregivers broke arm

Incident took place at private facility in Memphis
Jun. 20, 2013 @ 11:59 PM

A local woman says she wants answers on how her 15-year-old son wound up with a broken arm while in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. He was being treated at a private facility in Memphis. A DCS spokesperson said the group is looking into it.

Lisa French said her son, Dakota “Cody” French, suffered a fracture between his elbow and shoulder while he was being treated at Youth Villages’ Bartlett Campus in Memphis. She said her son has learning disabilities and behavior issues, and his family had allowed DCS to take temporary custody. The state placed him at the Memphis facility.

Now she believes personnel at the school intentionally injured him.

A spokesman for DCS confirmed the department is investigating the incident.

“Our Special Investigative Unit is looking into it,” Rob Johnson said. “They’ve got a report on it."

The SIU looks into allegations about abuse of children that take place outside of the home, he said, including cases in which a child is in a school or day care or at a private service provider like Youth Villages.

Youth Villages said it was unable to comment on the incident because of laws designed to protect patients' privacy.

“Very strict confidentiality laws govern children who receive or have received treatment for mental health issues and/or who are in state custody,” spokesperson Connie Mills noted in a written statement. “Because of that, I’m not allowed to provide information about or even acknowledge that any particular child has been helped by our organization.”

At the Bartlett Campus, Youth Villages helps children and teens with severe emotional and behavioral issues, she said. There is video surveillance throughout the facility, and staff are trained to respond when patients could be a threat to themselves or others. Policy calls for a team that includes a manager and several staff members to respond whenever those situations arise, she said.

“If a youth is injured at any time on campus, we take it very seriously and we report the incident according to both internal and state requirements and look into the matter thoroughly,” she said. “We carefully review the situation with staff, including reviewing video recordings.”

French said she wants answers; she hopes to get them at a hearing scheduled for next week in Sevier County Juvenile Court. Staff from Youth Villages have been ordered to be there for the hearing, she said.

Cody said that he was struggling with staff members after an altercation in the cottage-style dorm where he was staying. Another patient threw something at him, and there was a confrontation. Staff pulled him out of the room and into the hall.

He said that he tried to tell them he didn’t start the tussle, but that they told him if he didn’t stop arguing they would keep him from going on his next weekend visit home. He tripped one of the staff, and at that point they moved him to another area — an area he said was a “blind spot” for the cameras — and that’s when they broke his arm.

Lisa French shared hospital records that indicate Cody suffered a twisting fracture to his upper arm. The broken arm resulted in an infection; nurses visited him at home to tend to the infection.

She said his reactions when provoked are one of the issues they were supposed to be treating at the facility.

“Cody asked me afterwards, what kind of person does this to you. He was supposed to be safe there and getting help.

“If I would have broke my son’s arm, I would be in jail now. I want the same thing done at this place.”

French said she came forward because she knows there are other children from Sevier County being treated at the same facility, and she wanted their families to know what happened to Cody while he was there.

She and her husband are trying to regain custody of Cody and expect that to happen to soon; she shared court documents that confirm Juvenile Court Judge Jeff Rader will hear information on the alleged assault on her son during a hearing next week.

Those proceedings are closed to the public, and Rader cannot comment on individual cases.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com