Violence & vanishing supervisors at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall |

At 9:37 p.m. on Monday evening, April 11, 2022, a seasoned worker who has worked with youth at the Los Angeles County probation service for more than a decade received a text message from a friend who also works and was on probation, then in service at the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall.

“BJNJH in lockdown,‘ wrote the friend. “5 units of disruption. minors on the roof. DPO injured fell through the roof. Young people have taken over the facility. Armed units respond. What are you going to do? shoot her It does not look good…”

Text by Barry J Nidorf Juvenile Hall staff, redacted to protect anonymity.

DPO stands for Deputy Probation Officer*, these are the staff who work with children in the county’s youth camps and treatment facilities.

Barry J., as the facility in question is known, is located in Sylmar, California, and is the only one of the district’s three juvenile halls that is still open.

The hall had been in a worsening state of chaos for weeks, and also suffered from critical staff shortages, so DPOs were gradually assigned to the Sylmar facility. But on Monday, April 11, things got worse for both the youth and the staff.

Members of the department’s Special Enforcement Operations Unit (SEO), also known as “armed units,” actually showed up (as the staffer wrote in the text above). But six of the members of the SEO people were reportedly injured themselves trying to get the youth under control.

This story has much more to offer. To better understand this new catastrophe, however, we must go back a little.

The BSCC factor

In mid-March this year, in response to the looming threat that the state’s Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) could declare Central Juvenile Hall unfit for juvenile housing if the county does not make the proper corrections, LA County Parole Officer Adolfo Gonzales sent a notification to Central staff telling them that both children and staff were to move immediately from Central to the Barry J Nidorf Juvenile Hall would have to be relocated. The idea was that everyone would stay in Sylmar for 90 days while necessary repairs were made in Central.

The BSCC sword hanging over the probation officer’s head was real.

As readers may recall, last fall the BSCC voted unanimously to declare that LA County’s two juvenile homes — Barry J. and Central — were as far off the mark as the two on several basic standards of care Prisons for Children Explained “unsuitable for youth apartments.”)

But the sudden nature of the move, reportedly insisted on by county officials, sparked at least two youth riots when the Central children and accompanying staff arrived in Barry J over the weekend in mid-March.

Unfortunately, according to senior probation officers we interviewed, 90 days isn’t nearly enough time to complete the cleaning, repairs, and other lengthy upgrades and maintenance needed to make Central reasonably livable for both kids and staff .

“I was writing reports about things that needed fixing,” one of our sources said, “and months went by and I checked and saw nothing happened. That happens all the time.”

culture of favoritism

Probation officers we spoke to traced many of the problems at both Central Juvenile Hall and Barry J to poor management by many of those in charge at both facilities, right down to the level of the office manager, who they say promotes and in her was retained positions based on favoritism instead of merit

Many are hailing Chief Gonzales, who took up his job in January 2021, as a reform-minded leader intent on rooting out the culture of favoritism and corruption that has long plagued LA County’s probation service. It wasn’t an easy feat, however, especially on the youth side of parole.

“These are the people who undermined the last chief and they are doing their best to undermine this one,” said one parole veteran.

Still, Gonzales and his two top deputies, Assistant Parole Officer Adam Bettino and Assistant Parole Officer Karen Fletcher, reportedly worked to make the necessary personnel changes among the supervisors at the two juvenile institutions, along with the supervisors and the senior management that installed those supervisors and under whose supervision disturbing events have occurred.

The need for some change at Barry J. was most recently demonstrated by the now infamous event of January 29, 2022, when a mysterious intruder was able to breach two layers of security at the facility and then make his way through one or more Youth housing units where reports still said no one stopped the guy in a paper painter’s suit and orange baseball cap as he pulled out equipment and possibly swabbed up to 15 children for the COVID virus.

All of this brings us back to Monday April 15th

The phone and text failure

Whether or not the mysterious intruder was the last straw, Chief Gonzales and his administration have replaced the leadership of the Barry J Nidorf Juvenile Hall with a hand-picked new group they are reportedly hoping will start the reverse things.

Sylmar’s new government was scheduled to begin on Monday, April 11th.

But instead of finding an appropriate way to pass the baton to the new bosses – including making the new people aware of smoldering issues – the old administration instead simply stopped coming to work on Thursday April 7th.

As a result, from Thursday to the arrival of the new group on Monday, there were no superiors at all on site.

As issues at Barry J began to worsen, with associates contacting their former bosses until the new group took over on Monday, they found that as of Thursday, the outgoing cabal refused to answer their phones or reply to texts.

By the time the new government arrived on Monday morning, one or more of Barry J’s units had reached powder keg status.

On Monday evening, the powder keg exploded, children were on the roof of a tool shed at the facility and an employee followed the child onto the roof. fell through and was injured. Armed units were called and so on.

The situation was not improved by the fact that a significant percentage of the staff assigned to the Sylmar facility simply will not be working due to the volatile conditions. Instead, they “call” sick.

“We don’t have the programs we need for the children, we need more health officials, and the minors are attacking staff and don’t feel like they face any consequences for their actions,” said a probationary source. “That needs to change.”

The pizza cure

So the problems continue. On Saturday evening, April 17, three children reportedly tried to escape from the facility and one of the children fell from a roof during the attempt to escape and was seriously injured, according to sources.

However, there was one bright spot that occurred earlier that same day in an effort to reward the majority of the kids at Barry J, who are not Involved in the riots, escape attempts and violence, some lawyers brought over 100 pepperoni pizzas for the youths and for the staff tasked with protecting them.

“The truth is,” said one staffer, “nobody feels safe.”

To further illustrate the issue, Local 685, the LA County Probation Officers’ Base Union, sent the following “e-gram” message to its members just before 5 p.m. Sunday afternoon:

The department is going through a crisis at BJN and as professional peace officers we urge all members to report for duty. You can work OT in incremental shifts that work for you and your family: 2 hours, 4 hours, 6 hours, etc. Any availability is accepted. Just call and let us know the times you can work.

We must try to avoid the Ministry declaring a non-Covid emergency that will lead to another round of operations.

“We must support this effort. This is high alert.”

More as we know it.

*Correction: We initially incorrectly defined a “DSB” who is an Assistant Probation Officer as a “DSO” or prison officer. DPOs generally work in the county’s youth camps and treatment facilities, while DSOs work in the youth shelters. However, due to dangerous staff shortages, some DSBs are being asked to work temporarily at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall. At WitnessLA, we promise we really know the difference between the two designations, but didn’t initially notice the error until two commenters kindly pointed it out to us. (Correction made at 9:56 am 4/18/2022.)

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