Wayne County fires deputy director at juvenile detention center after alleged sex assault

Kara Berg
The Detroit News

Detroit — One top level employee at the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility was fired and a second employee was reassigned to a different job following an alleged sexual assault of a child at the detention facility this week, according to the county.

County spokesperson Tiffani Jackson confirmed that Mark Roland, a deputy director at the Juvenile Detention facility, was fired Friday. She also confirmed facility Director Brandon Barber was reassigned to another position in the county, but did not give any further information.

Jackson said she could not share further information on Roland and Barber because it was a personnel and human resources matter. Seven additional employees were suspended after the alleged sexual assault this week.

Roland had been the deputy director at the JDF since September 2020, according to his LinkedIn page.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Elizabeth Hertel said Thursday that the incident prompted the state to intervene in the county's Juvenile Detention Facility, bringing staff into the facility to work with the children, add enhanced oversight and work with leaders to ensure the facility is implementing changes. There are seven other licensing investigations underway at the detention center, Hertel said.

“The awful sexual assault of a child is a clear demonstration that there was incredibly improper supervision occurring in this facility,” Hertel told The Detroit News. "We absolutely feel that we need to take some more proactive steps by providing that additional staffing support from our state staff."

The alleged sexual assault and intervention came after months of Wayne County pleading for the state to help them manage overcrowding at the detention facility, which county officials say stems from the state not providing enough residential treatment centers for youth. Hertel said she became involved with the JDF's concerns in the fall when the existing facility needed aid moving to a new facility.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Bob Wheaton said the state had been working with Wayne County on issues prior to Hertel's involvement, but Wayne County Executive Warren Evans' office said the state aid came too late.

"In retrospect, it's clear that state officials were too slow to take decisive action as they were closing down long-term stay beds," Jackson said in a statement. "That inaction left way too many young people in an overcrowded facility — and Wayne County has been left to carry the consequences."

The juvenile facility, known as the JDF and built to house 80 juvenile offenders, has been at double capacity for months, at times holding up to 150 teenagers. Nearly half of those teenagers have already been adjudicated and a judge has deemed them to be in need of treatment at a residential center, according to the county.

Because of a shortage of beds across the state — there are about 200 total beds available for juvenile justice treatment in Michigan between contract and state-operated facilities — these juveniles are stuck in an overcrowded detention facility without the needed services, mental health treatment or behavioral treatment.

The average stay at the county Juvenile Detention Facility has increased from 21 days pre-pandemic to 127 days, Jackson said. The facility currently has one child who has been in the JDF for 895 days, and another who has spent 412 days in detention. Both are awaiting a residential placement.

Genelle Allen, Wayne County's chief operating officer, faulted the state for ignoring its responsibility to care for the county's delinquent youth. She sent a letter Feb. 9 to Demetrius Starling, senior deputy director for the children's service administration at Michigan department, questioning why the state hasn't done more to help.

"The continuous overpopulation problem at the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility is an emergency and must be treated as such by MDHHS and not simply dismissed because the Department claims they aren't 'State' youths," Allen wrote. "While MDHHS was taking all of these licensing actions, the Department surely had to know that the constant dwindling pool of available beds would result in the current system collapse that has landed squarely upon Wayne County and the Court."

Hertel said Wayne County is the licensee of the facility and is the one in charge of it. She said most of the children at the JDF are not state wards.

Michigan State Police are investigating the sexual assault that allegedly took place in the JDF this week, Jackson said.