Guard suspended in teen’s death was fired from last job  

Two of the staffers suspended after the death of a teen at the
West Palm Beach lockup have checkered work histories.


When Laryell King was forced to leave her job at the
Department of Juvenile Justice lockup in Orlando for
“negligently” leaving a youth alone in a room, juvenile justice
administrators left a clear warning in her personnel file: “NO
rehire in any position.”

But rehire her they did.

King ended up on the payroll at the DJJ lockup in West Palm
Beach. Now, she is one of five guards suspended after staffers
ignored the suffering of 18-year-old Eric Perez, who died at the
West Palm Beach juvenile detention center following seven
hours of vomiting, hallucinating and complaining of severe
The person who hired King despite the admonition, lockup superintendent Anthony C. Flowers, has a work history
that raises other questions.

When Flowers was hired by the state, he was the assistant program director for the Florida Institute for Girls, a 100-
bed prison for hard-to-manage girls that was being closed down amid a Palm Beach County grand jury report that
found it rife with violence, sexual abuse by guards, and endless lockdowns due to chronic short-staffing.

“The culture of some staff was to protect each other, fostering cover-ups and unprofessional conduct,” the grand jury
wrote in February 2004.

The employment records for Flowers and King were provided to The Miami Herald in response to a public records
request. Samadhi Jones, an agency spokeswoman in Tallahassee, declined to comment about the two employees.
“While the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is committed to being open and transparent to the greatest degree
possible, due to ongoing investigations by the DJJ Inspector General’s Office and the West Palm Beach Police
Department we cannot comment further on the death of the young man at the Palm Beach Regional Juvenile
Detention Center,” Jones said Tuesday.

Eric, who turned 18 on July 2 while detained at the West Palm Beach center, was locked up after officers found
marijuana in his possession when they stopped his bicycle for a broken light. The arrest violated his probation years
earlier on a robbery charge.

Beginning around 1:30 a.m. on July 10, the teen began to complain of a severe headache, and vomited the rest of
the night. He also appeared to be hallucinating, waving his arms and screaming at officers to extricate him from an
imaginary assailant. Records and interviews suggest guards moved Eric by dragging his mat from room to room, but
did nothing to help him until just before 8 a.m., when they called for an ambulance. By the time paramedics arrived, a
heart monitor showed only a “flat line,” records show.

King, who had been honorably discharged from the U.S. Army, was first hired by DJJ to work in the Orange County
detention center in late 2001. She had been working for a security company at the time. Her evaluations from the
early 2000s were generally positive, though unremarkable. “Officer King is dedicated to her work and the
department,” a supervisor wrote in March 2005, for example. “She’s respectful, cooperative and committed to

But in March 2008, Jeffrey Lonton, the then-superintendent of the Orlando lockup, moved to fire King.

King had “negligently” left a youth alone and unsupervised for 45 minutes, until another staff member heard the child
“banging on the door” to get out. “Ms. King also placed three youths in the laundry room the same day unsupervised;
they let themselves out after several minutes,” a memo states. “Additionally, after reviewing video surveillance, the
same events had occurred over several days in the month of February.”

The memo noted that King would be allowed to resign “in lieu of termination.” The subject line of the memo stated:
“NO rehire in any position for Laryell King.”

But in September 2010, King applied at DJJ for a job as a probation officer and correctional treatment specialist.
When asked on the employment application why she left the Orlando lockup, King gave a one-word answer:

On Sept. 28, 2010, Flowers informed King of her job offer. “In accordance with the provisions of the state of Florida’s
personnel rules, you have been selected for position of juvenile justice detention officer,” he wrote.

She was making about $25,000 a year.

Less than a year later, when administrators suspended King, personnel managers in Orlando were asked in writing by
DJJ whether King had ever been counseled or disciplined. “No disciplinary actions in the personnel file,” was the

King could not be reached for comment.

Flowers was hired by DJJ in October 2003 as a senior detention officer. At the time, he was working as the assistant
program director at the Florida Institute for Girls, or FIG. His application said he was “responsible for the day-to-day
operation of the intensive mental health wing’’ of the prison, where he supervised staff, monitored compliance with
state regulations and standards, and evaluated employee performance. He had been an assistant superintendent at
the West Palm Beach lockup before his employment at FIG.

Though FIG was being paid $5 million per year by DJJ to operate the treatment center, a company personnel
manager refused to answer a single question about his performance when asked by juvenile justice administrators
doing a background check.

“What were the major duties performed?,” a reference check asked. “Per company policy cannot give out
information,” was the reply. “How effectively did he perform these functions?,” the questionnaire asked. “Same as
above,” FIG answered.

Roy Miller, who heads the Florida Children’s Campaign, questioned why administrators would have hired a guard from
a program that was rife was abuse — and why they would have allowed a contract agency to refuse to provide
personnel information that is covered under the state’s public records law.

“It’s a matter of public record that girls were abused sexually and physically at the Florida Institute for Girls,” Miller
said. “Why they would hire employees from FIG without knowing explicitly their employment record is beyond
comprehension,” said Miller, whose group has long been a DJJ watchdog.

DJJ records obtained at the time by The Herald showed one girl complained that she had been taken to the facility’s
“boom boom room,” where officers “slammed her head into the wall and struck her in the mouth.” The girl suffered
bruises and welts, said a report that verified the girl’s claims.

After his return to DJJ, Flowers rose quickly through the ranks: senior detention officer, assistant detention center
superintendent, superintendent. His work was described as “outstanding’’ and “exceptional” in yearly evaluations. His
personnel file shows he has never been disciplined. His yearly salary is about $65,000, records show.

Flowers, who was suspended after Eric’s death, did not return calls for comment from a reporter.

FIG was shuttered about the same time a Palm Beach County grand jury blasted it, but not because DJJ
administrators took the action. Lawmakers sliced the program’s funding from their spending plan, at the urging of
children’s advocates.

“It was a hellhole for girls,” Miller said.