Two years ago, the suicide of a teenage girl in a Milam County jail led to the arrest of two jail employees, one of whom admitted to contributing to her death.
The teen’s parents are now suing the private company that previously ran the Rockdale Juvenile Justice Center, along with several people who worked at the jail.
Nacaya Matthews, 15, who was committed to the jail in May 2017 on a probation violation, reported in July of that year that a guard had been sexually inappropriate with her. The suit alleges that the jail’s assistant facility administrator ultimately concluded the guard did nothing wrong and called Matthews a liar.
On July 14, 2017, jail supervisors noticed that Matthews was hurting herself and placed her on suicide watch, the lawsuit says.
“Why would I lie about this?” Matthews tearfully told another juvenile inmate, according to a report filed after Matthews’ death. “You know it’s happened to me before. Why would I lie about something like this?”
Then, on Aug. 12, 2017, Matthews hanged herself with a bed sheet in her cell.
The Texas Juvenile Justice Department conducted an investigation and raised several issues. As a result of the investigation, a juvenile supervision officer, Eboni Henderson, was found guilty in 2018 of tampering with physical evidence in the case because she lied about conducting certain checks, court records show. Another juvenile supervision officer, Quashima Jackson, pleaded guilty in June last year to a charge of aiding suicide.
A third juvenile supervision officer, Zastefanie Ross, was fired after Matthews’ death, the lawsuit says. Inmates reported after Matthews’ death that Ross had called Matthews a snitch, the state investigation shows.
Matthews’ mother, Evangelina Alanis, thought Matthews would be safe at the Rockdale facility, said her lawyer, Bradley Houston.
“She thought that was the safest place for her, rather than to be subjected to the streets,” Houston said. “She thought that would be the best thing for her. She thought that if you’re in the care of the state of Texas, you can’t be any safer than that, because they’re professionals.”
The American-Statesman filed a open records request for Matthews’ autopsy, and the request is pending.
According to the suit, Jackson encouraged Matthews to undress and fondle herself during room checks. Matthews came forward with this information and was “subsequently ridiculed and disbelieved by (the jail’s) staff and other youth,” the suit says.
Jackson was initially charged with indecency with a child before she ultimately pleaded to aiding suicide, court records show. Jackson’s lawyer, Benton Watson, declined to discuss the details of the case, but said the facility’s officials thought “it was essential they place the blame on somebody else.”
Inmates reported after Matthews’ death that Louis Soldan, the jail’s former assistant facility administrator, called Matthews a “liar,” the state investigation report says.
Matthews’ parents are now suing 4M Youth Services — the company that was running the juvenile jail at the time of Matthews’ death — as well as Jackson, Henderson, Ross and Soldan.
Officials at the Rockdale facility did not return emails seeking comment on the allegations. Youth Opportunity Center Inc., an Indiana-based company, has since taken over the management of the facility, though 4M still owns the building. Officials with Youth Opportunity said they could not comment on changes made after Matthews’ death because they weren’t familiar with the details of her suicide.
On the day of her death, Matthews covered up part of the window into her cell with toilet paper so that others could not see inside, according to the lawsuit. Henderson went to Matthews’ room, but could not see inside because of the toilet paper.
“Henderson failed to conduct any other rounds of the youth’s room” and falsified observation records to make it look like the required room checks were performed as required, the suit says.
Henderson was fired and pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence as a result, according to the suit and court records.
“4M and Henderson had failed to properly monitor Nacaya that day and had failed to follow its own procedures as to how often she was to be checked on,” the suit says. “Nacaya was found with no pulse.”