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Civics & Democracy

Teen Found Dead of Apparent Overdose Inside LA County Juvenile Hall

Buildings viewed from above are laid out in a modified triangle, with the top right side angled. Inside the rectangle is a grassy lawn. A pool of water is visible near the top middle.
An aerial view of Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall, where a teen was found dead of an apparent overdose Tuesday.
(Courtesy Google Earth)
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A teenager was found dead of an apparent overdose inside Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar Tuesday morning, according to the L.A. County Probation Department, which oversees the hall.

The death comes weeks after a state oversight board declined to shut down Nidorf and Central Juvenile Hall in Boyle Heights, despite ongoing problems including overdoses and violence at the facilities.

“The LA County Probation Department is heartbroken to confirm that a young adult was found dead this morning at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall,” Guillermo Viera Rosa, chief strategist for juvenile operations, said in a statement. “Our nursing staff immediately administered emergency services, including the use of Narcan.”

The department did not identify the drug or drugs involved.

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The person who died was an 18-year-old male, according to a well-informed county government source not authorized to speak about the death. The incident occurred inside the Secure Youth Track Facility, which houses those accused of serious and violent crimes, the source said.

“I want to convey our most profound condolences to the youth’s family,” Rosa said, adding that the department “will cooperate fully with law enforcement on a thorough investigation of the incident.”

He said the department has dispatched peer support personnel and mental health professionals to Nidorf for crisis counseling of youth and staff.

Drugs are a big problem in juvenile halls

Drugs, including fentanyl, are common inside the juvenile halls, which together house about 350 people.

Last month, the county’s Office of Inspector General issued a report on drugs entering juvenile halls. It found packages containing contraband were being “thrown over a wall” at Nidorf and probation staff had found “arrows spray-painted on the outside of these walls” showing where drugs should be thrown.

The report said probation staff are conducting perimeter checks of the facility, “however, there are no logs kept of these perimeter checks and no perimeter checks are being conducted on the outside of the facility.”

The county’s juvenile detention facilities have been troubled for years, with incidents ranging from violence and unrest to the pepper-spraying of youths. Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times reported that a probation officer was stabbed in the neck at the Sylmar facility.

The state oversight board is set to revisit the issue of whether to keep Nidorf and Central Juvenile Hall open this month.

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In March, the county Board of Supervisors fired Probation Chief Adolfo Gonzalez. Last week, interim Chief Karen Fletcher abruptly announced her retirement.

A push to more quickly fix ‘illegal and unsafe conditions’

Meanwhile, the state attorney general’s office is asking a judge to force the county to speed up its efforts to correct the “illegal and unsafe conditions of confinement” at the county’s two juvenile halls.

Attorney General Rob Bonta filed a motion last month to enforce provisions of a 2021 stipulated judgment against the county. He said L.A. is not living up to its legal obligation to provide enough staffing so youths can be enrolled in and taken to school; taken to important medical appointments; and have sufficient time outdoors for recreation and exercise.

"Due in part to a staffing crisis plaguing the juvenile halls, the county has not just failed to make forward progress towards compliance with the judgment: It has actually regressed away from complying with the most basic and fundamental provisions that ensure youth and staff safety and well-being," Bonta’s office said in a statement.

The attorney general’s office cited recent reports of fentanyl use in facilities, requiring the use of Narcan on two youths, and general negligence.

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