Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Attorney Rick Reno Seeks Justice in Florida

Attorney Rick Reno is currently representing Justin Caldwell and Christopher Sholly - two boys who have been locked up in the system for years. Each lost their adolescents behind closed doors. Each of their stories is eerily similar. Each boy suffered from years of severe abuse that no child should have to endure.

Attorney Rick Reno is seeking justice for these boys and their families. Most recently he attended a meeting with two Department of Juvenile Justice investigators. Below he talks about that meeting - and more.

Justin Caldwell abused at Dozier School for Boys: The Truth

Justin Caldwell, an 18-year old boy, has been incarcerated in the Florida Juvenile Justice System since he was 13. What was to be a 12-15 month stay in a residential treatment center to help Justin turned into a 5-year nightmare.

Justin has been brutally abused during his stay at Dozier School for Boys. Christopher Sholly knows all too well what Justin has been through – he went through it himself.

Rick Reno, the attorney for Justin Caldwell, also represents Christopher Sholly (Christopher Sholly’s diary can be found at . In an interview with Mr. Reno this morning, he indicated that he and Justin Caldwell met with investigators at the Department of Juvenile Justice on Friday, April 13. There the two investigators asked Justin to describe what happened. Though not too talkative and a bit withdrawn at first, Justin finally started talking about what happened to him at Dozier.

Mr. Reno said, “They had a copy of the videotape of what happened at the ISP in the evening. Though a lot of action took place in hidden areas we could see Justin being abused.”

The investigators showed Mr. Reno and Justin the videotape that illustrated Justin being abused by staff member Robert Speights. The videotape had no sound so Justin explained that on that evening he told staff he was not tired and asked if he could stay awake. The rule at Dozier is if someone cannot sleep they are allowed to sit on the floor. Justin did just that. Mr. Speights told him to stand up, then to sit down, three or four times.

Earlier in the day there had been another incident of abuse though there was no videotape available. Justin said he accidentally brushed up against another staff member, Mr. Wooten. Wooten became angry and “got in Justin’s face”, spitting in his face as he yelled, and knocking his own hat off his head when he put his face close to Justin’s. This angered Wooten and he took it out on Justin by physically assaulting him. There were witnessed who saw what happened.

Wooten waited three days before filing criminal charges against Justin, who had recently turned 18. This put Justin into the adult justice system.

As they continued to view the videotape, what followed was shocking to Mr. Reno – but all too familiar to Justin. Mr. Reno said he could see Justin standing there with his hands out as if to ask a question – he made no overt action towards the staff. Reno said, “Speights then grabbed Justin by the throat with his right hand and kicked Justin’s feet out from under him, causing Justin to abruptly fall to the ground. I could see Speights choking Justin and beating the back of his head to the ground. Finally Justin tried to respond by grabbing Speights by the throat. Another staff member walked over to them and signaled to Speights to roll Justin over onto his stomach, which he did. He continued to choke Justin, beating the front of his head, until they finally pulled him up and started walking him to the other side of the room. At that time Justin was extremely dizzy which caused him to pass out before he fell and hit the table, gashing his head open where he already had staples in his forehead from a previous beating. He was bleeding very profusely. The videotape showed they were applying towels to his head.” He went on to say, “They finally called a male nurse and supervisor at which time there were four or five staff members in the room. They tried to stop the bleeding for 30 minutes before they finally called an ambulance.”

Mr. Reno said what shocked him were the other young men in the room who witnessed the abuse. He said, “They looked like zombies. One boy was laying an a bed, saw what was happening, watched for a short time, then rolled over and turned his back to the abuse. Another boy was sitting at a table about two feet from where the incident was taking place. He didn’t move an eyebrow when Justin fell on the floor but instead kept drawing. When the action came closer to him he just walked away.”

The two DJJ investigators said that the beating Justin took was very disturbing but almost equally disturbing was the lack of response from the other boys and the fact that they looked like zombies. They told Mr. Reno that “heads are going to roll and this place (Dozier) is going to be completely reorganized. You have a good case. People are being fired, some may go to jail.” Mr. Reno indicated he believed the DJJ investigators, a young man and a young woman, were not seeking answers to undermine Justin’s story but rather they were looking for corroboration.

Justin was asked how he would classify Dozier and he responded it is like a day care. There’s no counseling, all they do is keep kids under control, basically “a place to keep us out of everybody’s hair.”

The media is portraying Justin as someone guilty of committing a crime when in fact Justin is a victim.

Justin is now at the Jackson County Jail across the street from Dozier. When asked what it is like at Jackson compared to Dozier, Justin said, “It’s Heaven!” When asked what it would take to make things better at Dozier, Justin replied, “Shut it down!”

Mark Caldwell, Justin’s father, has advocated for his son for years.

In a Blog I recently prepared, I asked:

How many parents have had to lie awake at night for 5 years wondering what has happened to their child that day? How many parents have had their child's adolescents stripped from them, something they can never get back? How many parents have had to fear that if their child does something wrong - even if what they have done is something that under normal circumstances would be dealt with at home and with some therapy - have to fear their child will be taken from them and placed into a system known to abuse children - a system where some children have died as a result of abuse or neglect?

How many parents have had to hear stories time and time again that their child is being abused, yet their hands are tied to help their own child? How many parents have learned their child's arm was broken - that they had staples in their forehead - that they were beaten, thrown to the floor, that their heads were slammed to the ground repeatedly? How many? Too many.

Mark Caldwell knows all too well what I am talking about - Dawn Chase is all to familiar with these stories - the same things happened to her son, Christopher. And there are many many more parents who must lie awake at night wondering - what happened to my child today?

Mark and Dawn have worked with CAICA and others in an effort to get the word out and to effect change. All of our hard work is beginning to pay off. Two employees lost their jobs last week at Dozier School for Boys because they abused Mark's son, Justin, and did not report abuse they witnessed. We believe others, too, will lose their jobs for sitting back and watching the abuse without reporting it. It is a Federal law that anyone who witnesses abuse who works with children has a duty to report the abuse.

Mark has never given up on his son. Justin was thrown into the system when he was 12 - he is now 18 years old. He has not spent one day at home with his father in the past 5 years. The injustices that have occurred are unconscionable. Justice needs to be served in this case - and in the cases of others going through the same thing. It is time for people to come forward if this is happening to their child. It is only when people speak up - and keep speaking up - as Mark has done - that change will take place.

The media has reported about the recent job terminations at Dozier. They did not get the story right – Mark Caldwell, Dawn Chase, and Isabelle Zehnder of CAICA are working to get the truth told to the public.

Contact information for: Richard W Reno - Attorney At Law
66 Lower Bridge Road
Crawfordville FL, 32327

Telephone: (850) 926-6313
Fax: (850) 926-9874