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‘Completely unprovoked!’ Correctional officer’s attack on juvenile kept quiet for nearly a year

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MILWAUKEE COUNTY — A correctional officer attacks a child inside the Milwaukee County Juvenile Detention Center.

FOX6 Investigators show you the video that's never been released. Plus, the alarming lack of action by supervisors and administrators who knew all about it.

The juvenile guard was fired and charged with a crime last summer for an incident that happened more than two years ago.

It was all caught on video.

So why did top brass at the juvenile detention center sit on the evidence for so long?

First, consider the evidence leaked to FOX 6 News. Two videos captured the same day -- January 12, 2016 -- show juvenile correctional officer (JCO) Brandon McAfee using force against a youth in detention.

One of those videos led to criminal charges against McAfee.

Surveillance video from January 12, 2016, shows JCO Brandon McAfee thrusting a chair into the back of a juvenile's head after a scuffle between two youths.

"Completely unprovoked!" said Sheldon Wasserman, a member of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, as he viewed the video for the first time. "Just attacks the guy."

McAfee was a correctional officer at the Vel Phillips Juvenile Justice Center in Wauwatosa, where surveillance cameras show him lunging at one of the juvenile inmates in a hallway of the detention center and unloading a flurry of fists.

"It's shocking," Wasserman said.

A source familiar with the case tells FOX6 News the tension started earlier that same day when the same juvenile was involved in a classroom brawl, which was captured in a second video also provided to FOX6.

While fights among youth in the detention center are not uncommon, what happens when McAfee enters the room is indeed unusual.

The video shows one correctional officer tossing a juvenile to the ground. As he sits, facing away from McAfee, the correctional officer picks up a chair and thrusts it into the back of his head, causing the youth's head to move in jarring fashion.

"Holy crap!" Wasserman exclaimed, upon seeing the chair video. "You don't throw chairs at people. You're a big guy, you're throwing a chair at a teenager? I mean, the guy's on the ground!"

Mark Mertens, the Director of Delinquency and Court Services for Milwaukee County, has seen these videos before.

Five hours after the classroom incident, McAfee is seen shoving and punching a juvenile in the hallway, without any apparent provocation. This second video eventually prompted criminal charges against McAfee.

"It's very serious to me, it's something that we cannot tolerate and won't tolerate,"  he said. "I'm responsible for these youth. They're here in my care. I take that very personally. And my staff take that personally," Mertens said.

Mertens says incidents like this are "extremely rare," so it only makes sense that when they happen, everyone in the facility would know about it.

The McAfee incident happened in January of 2016.

According to a criminal complaint filed against him last summer, supervisors at the detention center did not discover it had happened until December of 2016 -- 11 months later.

"What happened during all this time?" Wasserman asked.

"I can't really speculate about things that happened before I got here," Mertens said.

Mertens -- who was hired two months after the incident -- says no one showed him the video until several months after he came on board.

Kevin Gilboy has been there for 28 years. But he only recently became superintendent.

"In the detention center while I am in charge, that type of situation will not happen," he said.

Terrell Martin (left) was deputy superintendent in January 2016 when McAfee (right) allegedly attacked a juvenile without provocation. Martin and McAfee are relatives.

The Milwaukee County Juvenile Detention Center is a 120-bed facility with 7 classrooms, all heavily-monitored by 83 surveillance cameras.

"So we pick up almost everything that is happening," said Gilboy, who insists there would be no way for such an egregious use-of-force incident to occur without supervisors and top administrators knowing about it. And if it happened while he was in charge?

"That person will be walked out and not be working here," Gilboy said.

But in January 2016, the man in charge was deputy superintendent Terrell Martin, who allowed McAfee to continue working with juveniles long after this happened.

"Who's buddy with who to just bury this?" Wasserman asked.

The FOX6 Investigators found that Martin (the deputy Superintendent), and McAfee (the correctional officer) are more than buddies, they are blood relatives. Sources say, they are first cousins. In an email to FOX6, Martin confirms he is "related" to McAfee, but insists that "played no role" in how he handled the case.

Director of Delinquency and Court Services, Mark Mertens, says the McAfee incident occurred before he was hired and no one told him about it for several months after that.

"I can't comment on any of that," Mertens said.

Terrell Martin retired in the fall of 2016 -- just after a new superintendent took the reigns.

"We had some changes in leadership," Mertens said.

Shortly after retired Milwaukee Police Captain Peter Pierce was hired as superintendent in September 2016, he gave the McAfee case a fresh look.

"Immediately identified that it was out of bounds," Mertens recalled, "and we acted on it immediately."

But Pierce apparently did more than that. According to an internal memo obtained by FOX6 News, he discovered "systematic failures" in the way the juvenile detention center was tracking use-of-force incidents. The memo says Pierce had identified "several videos of questionable uses of force" that were not properly documented, because the detention center had "no practice, policy or procedure" for reviewing them.

A 2015 incident involving another correctional officer, Sanjay Adell, also led to criminal charges. It was the only use-of-force incident documented that year.

A brutal attack on a youth inmate in 2015 led to a misdemeanor charge against correctional officer Sanjay Adell, but it was the only use of force incident logged by the detention center that year.

They recorded just two more in 2016. But in 2017, the detention center recorded *ten* use-of-force incidents. Was there a sudden rash of staff violence last year? Or was it simply a result of the new superintendent's push to document those incidents?

"I think it's likely that we're doing a better job of documenting at this point," Mertens said.

Which raises the question of how many use-of-force incidents were not properly recorded before?

"We have to start doing things differently," said Sharlen Moore of Youth Justice Milwaukee.

She and others with the organization have been sounding the alarm over the treatment of juveniles at Lincoln Hills, a long-term youth prison in Northern Wisconsin that Governor Walker recently announced he plans to close. Moore says conditions at Vel Phillips -- Milwaukee County's short-term detention facility  -- appear to be much better than Lincoln Hills. But she says abuse should not be tolerated anywhere.

"Any adult that does that sort of harm to a child needs to be held accountable," Moore said.

McAfee said nothing when FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn approached him after his most recent court hearing.

"Nobody wants to hurt anybody," Gilboy said. "I don't want my staff to get hurt and I don't want kids to get hurt."

Gilboy says there are times when force is necessary to restore order, but only as a last resort.

"I want kids in our detention facility treated with respect and dignity," he said.

There is never a time for attacking them unprovoked.

"At the end of the day," Moore said, "when you look at these children, they are still children."

In July 2017, prosecutors charged Brandon McAfee with felony Misconduct in Public Office and the county fired him. He no longer works at the detention center. However, as a civil service employee, he has the right to a hearing before his discharge is official.

That hearing before the Milwaukee County Personnel Review Board has now been rescheduled twice because of delays requested by McAfee's attorney. And, last month, the court granted a delay in his criminal case, too. It's not clear why McAfee asked for the delay, but his attorney told the judge they are "trying to work with the victim."

McAfee is due in court again on February 28th.

Peter Pierce only served 10 months as superintendent of the juvenile detention center before he either left or was replaced. Peter Pierce flagged the incident and followed up with reports for change in policy. FOX6 was unable to get a comment from Pierce directly. His former boss, Mark Mertens, said he could not explain why Pierce left so soon because that was a personnel matter.

Mertens did say their response to use-of-force incidents has improved since the changes Pierce put in place.

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