The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) revealed earlier this week that several at-risk youth and other adolescents attending the FSYCA in Fort Stewart, Georgia, have been subjected to abusive and traumatizing conditions created by employees of the facility - which caters to those aged between 16 and 18 years old.
The FSYCA, which is run by the Georgia National Guard, has had both public documents and former staffers describe a range of misconduct that is alleged to have happened behind closed doors.
“We were kids treated like animals,” 18-year-old former cadet Tabitha Olsen told the outlet via text message. “I understand how they liked to call themselves a military school and that it was supposed to be challenging, but I went through basic training for the Navy and it was nothing like the treatment that school put me under.”
One of the main issues highlighted by the AJC in the investigative report dealt with the use of chokeholds by cadres, or academy military staff.
“A chokehold, if the airway is constricted, could kill you,” said Jim Dooley, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who teaches lessons on the use of deadly force at the New York City Transit Authority. “I’m thinking an adult male, versus a juvenile, putting probably powerful arms around the neck, and that could constrict the airway. It’s really that simple.”
One particular case regarding of force involved 1st Lt. Daniel Gamble, who is alleged to have put a 16-year-old, who had been arguing and refused to sit in a chair, “in a chokehold and proceeded to choke him out to the point where he passed out,” according to Kayla Rose, a paraprofessional who observed the employee’s conduct.
Gamble was later defended by Beatice Palmer, a long-time cadre who is now the director of the FSYCA.
“1LT Gamble stated that the techniques he used is what he has used repeatedly to restrain cadets in the past when needed,” she wrote in an investigation statement on the matter. “1LT Gamble used other supported techniques to control this situation and maintain control of an irate, uncontrollable, hostile cadet, who was determined to do harm to another cadet if not restrained.”
She went even further to assert that Gamble’s actions and “techniques used to restrain cadets” should be approved as permissible following a review.
However, when the question of abuse was brought up to FSYCA Commandant Joseph Mayfield in a January phone conversation with the AJC, he asserted that he had yet to have a cadre injure any kids since he became commandant.
One former counselor at FSYCA, who chose to remain unnamed due to past alleged sexual harassment from a cadre, explained that the children at the academy predominantely come from broken homes and do not respond well to adult figures yelling and cursing toward them.
“If all they know is to be aggressive, [then] that’s all they know. They don’t know any different. And those kinds of behaviors don’t go away just because you enter a campus of the [Youth Challenge Program],” she said. “The cadre took it more as a threat, so they would try to make the cadets feel small, smaller than they already did.”
The ex-counselor detailed that as punishment for not responding to orders, cadets would be forced to eat last, or sometimes not even eat at all during a meal. Those who got into physical altercations would be made to wear reflective vests to shame them among their peers. If the cadet happened to be a repeat offender, they would have their mattress removed from their sleeping quarters.
“That’s the punishment. Make them sleep on the floor, like they are animals,” she said. “Inmates get treated better than these children.”
In addition to the physical abuse that has been alleged to occur at the academy, the mental health of the cadets was raised as a major concern in the AJC’s investigation.
The report revealed that in October 2018, a 16-year-old cadet, who had previously cut himself, was “revived” by Mayfield after he was found with a rope tightened around his neck. Months prior to that incident, an adolescent was found “in a daze” by a cadre after the cadet had taken “several pills he brought back from his cadet pass,” according to the outlet, citing the incident report. The student in question was later admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden, the adjutant general over the Georgia Department of Defense, told AJC that while students are screened to evaluate their mental wellness and “to set them up for success” at the academy, there are instances in which the school has “high school-aged adolescents, that do things that you’d probably see in just about every high school in this state.”
Something you probably won’t see in every high school in the state is a so-called “padded” room that is nearly empty, with nothing but a narrow window and a sole plastic chair.
“Again, this is not a prison. This is not a Regional Youth Detention Center. This is not an isolation-type area for those purposes,” Carden argued, stating that it was an area for cadets to “decompress.”
“This is a cool-down area for a young man or woman.”