A teen who was left bloodied and with a badly broken jaw after a beating at a for-profit youth correctional facility in the southern Minnesota town of Elmore is suing officials who he said failed to protect him after repeated threats from a fellow inmate.
According to a federal lawsuit filed this week in federal court in Minneapolis, officials at the since-shuttered Elmore Academy knew that the facility was not adequately staffed to take additional inmates when a Faribault County sheriff's deputy brought Cullen Kennedy, then 14, for intake after he was arrested for fleeing police in 2012.
During Kennedy's first full day at Elmore Academy, the complaint said, an inmate who was a "believed gang member" ordered him to attack other inmates in exchange for drugs, money and sex with female inmates. When Kennedy refused, the inmate threatened that he and "his fellow gang members" would kill Kennedy's father, reciting his name and home address to underscore the threat, the complaint said.
Kennedy described the threats to a judge and other officials the next day, and the judge ordered that he stay at Elmore Academy. However, according to the complaint, Faribault County Attorney Troy Timmerman and a Department of Corrections official agreed to a plan to provide for Kennedy's safety at the center.
But Kennedy alleges that Elmore Academy staff did nothing to protect him, instead returning him to the general population. He was soon beaten by inmates "until they were too tired to continue" the assault, the complaint said.
Kennedy's jaw "was broken on both sides so that the middle portion was hanging loose," the complaint said, and his injuries required metal plate implants to both sides of his head. The attack prompted Faribault and Martin counties — both also named in the suit — to stop sending teens to Elmore Academy, and the inmate who led the beating later pleaded guilty to assaulting Kennedy.
"He needed help more than anything else and was a kid who did not belong being incarcerated with the types of individuals he was incarcerated with," Jeff Storms, an attorney for Kennedy, said in an interview Thursday.
Storms said the lawsuit would show that Youth Services International, which operated Elmore, regularly housed juveniles needing social services alongside violent offenders under the supervision of understaffed and undertrained prison employees.
Representatives for Youth Services International Holdings, a Delaware corporation that owned Elmore Academy until its 2014 closure, could not be reached for comment. Described in the lawsuit as a "for-profit prison system for children," Elmore Academy operated separate units licensed by the state corrections and human services departments to treat youths housed for either criminal, mental health "or other protective purposes."
Elmore is in far southern Minnesota, just north of the Iowa border and about 50 miles south of Mankato.
Kennedy is seeking monetary damages from Youth Services International, five former Elmore Academy officials, five former guards referred to in the suit as "John Does," and Faribault and Martin counties. His lawsuit also points to other federal cases brought against Youth Services International centers across the country that date to 1997.
Youth Services International dissolved in October 2017, according to court documents.