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Former employee suing DJJ and alleges asks for security help were ignored

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Published: Dec. 27, 2021 at 3:37 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 27, 2021 at 8:33 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice is facing a lawsuit over allegations of racial discrimination, retaliation and ignoring an employee’s repeated asks over security.

Former DJJ employee Curtis McCray filed the lawsuit. It states he is a black man, a veteran and is living with a disability because of his service.

The lawsuit states the DJJ hired McCray as a teacher in June 2018, and within the month he expressed concerns about the security in the classroom.

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The lawsuit states McCray was subsequently put in a classroom with potentially more dangerous students, and over the proceeding 11 months repeatedly expressed safety concerns.

The lawsuit lists 10 specific instances and alludes to more.

It states in May 2019, McCray was involved in a physical altercation with a student after the student made a “sudden and aggressive movement” towards McCray.

It states McCray acted in “self-defense” and the student suffered scratches.

McCray’s attorney, Ryan Hicks, said via email:

This juvenile was an admitted problem/aggressor, and was in Mr. McCray’s class at the time because another teacher had a restraining order against the juvenile at that time. There is also a video of the altercation that places context into the juveniles conduct immediately before.

WIS requested the video in question from Hicks.

McCray is facing a 3rd degree assault and battery charge relating to the incident.

In the aftermath, the lawsuit states the DJJ put McCray on unpaid leave and began an investigation.

After McCray submitted complaints against the DJJ over safety and discrimination, the lawsuit states the DJJ fired him.

Specifically, McCray alleges he was not afforded the security that was given to his white counterparts, and the department did not address his safety concerns as related to his disability.

DJJ declined to comment on the litigation.

In October, the DJJ reported having 232 Juvenile Corrections Officer vacancies, including 74 at the Broad River complex.

A spokesperson for the DJJ said an updated tally was not immediately available, but did send this statement:

We are still short-staffed in multiple direct-care roles, including JCOs, food service professionals, and nurses. DJJ is keenly focused on recruitment and retention. Salary increases, a more streamlined career advancement structure, referral bonuses, etc. have all been implemented to better compete in the currently very challenging job market.

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