In late January, surveillance footage at Hermitage Hall, a treatment facility for nearly 100 male youth sex offenders ages 9 to 17, revealed that a staffer neglected his supervisory duties and spent nearly half an hour in a bathroom as several boys under his care appeared to be anally and orally raped by another resident (“Bitter Pill,” Feb. 14). With the brutal, sordid incident now under investigation by Metro police and the state’s Department of Children’s Services, it stands to reason that staffers at Hermitage Hall would be on high alert.
But little more than a week after reports of multiple counts of rape filtered in to state offices comes the horrifying report of a Hermitage resident who, distraught after a scuffle in the facility’s outdoor play area, threatened to plummet from an interstate overpass into the rush-hour traffic below.
According to a Feb. 7 incident report, the boy was involved in a physical altercation in the “back field” of the facility’s outdoor recreation area, located off of Eighth Avenue South. A Hermitage staffer, identified only as Ms. Foster, took the boy to a swing set to talk after the fight and encouraged him to line up with his peers, who were walking into the building.
Apparently unable to soothe the boy, the woman allowed two of the boy’s peers to take a shot at helping him. According to the report, the two boys tried “to encourage him to process his feelings” and join them inside. The peer-to-peer therapy didn’t work.
Instead, the boy ran away—all the way to Interstate 65, where, at approximately 5 p.m., he stood at the Hamilton Avenue overpass before climbing over the edge. With the interstate sign to his back, the boy sat with his legs dangling above traffic and threatened to jump.
Though police and the boy’s psychiatrist were reportedly at the scene trying to talk the boy down, it took a stranger in a semi-truck to rescue him. According to the incident report, the driver of an 18-wheeler positioned the truck’s trailer beneath the sign, allowing the boy to climb down. Police then transferred the resident to the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute.
The incident report does not give the boy’s age or where he is from, though the state stopped placing Tennessee children at Hermitage in 2006. And it’s also not clear in the report where Hermitage staffers were when the boy bolted from facility grounds. Officials from Hermitage Hall refused to discuss the incident, instead writing a letter to the Scene pointing out that the facility is “licensed in good standing” by the state’s Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities (DMHDD).
DMHDD officials refused to comment by phone about the incident. In an email to the Scene, department spokeswoman Jill Hudson wrote that DMHDD director of licensure Amber Gallina would only respond in writing to the Scene’s written questions.
In an email, Gallina admitted that the January rape allegations “caused concern” for her department, but she was quick to defend how Hermitage Hall handled the suicide attempt, saying staffers “followed all procedures for an incident of this type.”
Since the Scene first reported allegations made by Hermitage employees that residents were roughed up and placed in isolation rooms for weeks on end, forced to sleep on mattresses in the building’s hallways and given drug injections that experts liken to a chemical straitjacket (“Bad Medicine,” Dec. 13), countless reports that indicate clear security, operational and staffing issues at Hermitage have continued to filter into state offices. Even in the face of those allegations, Gallina says her office considers Hermitage a “viable vendor” with “quality staff and employees who are dedicated to their jobs and the mission of Hermitage Hall to help this category of youth.”
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