Teen in LA County Juvenile Hall dies of apparent drug overdose

Inmates matching on the yard at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, as they are moved between locations. (Photo by Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

An 18-year-old housed at a Los Angeles County juvenile hall died of an apparent overdose.

According to the county Probation Department, the unidentified teen was found dead Tuesday morning at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar. 

"Our nursing staff immediately administered emergency services, including the use of (anti-overdose medication) Narcan," a statement from Guillermo Viera Rosa, chief strategist for juvenile operations for the Probation Department, read.

The teen's family was notified and the department said it is cooperating with law enforcement as an investigation is conducted. 

As a result, mental health professionals and crisis counseling are available to both youth and staff during this time.

The death comes amid the release of an Office of Inspector General report in April which detailed at least three overdose incidents at Barry J. Nidorf this year.

According to the report, at least two youth were taken to local medical facilities and/or were revived by Narcan after overdoses connected to the synthetic opioid, Fentanyl. Fentanyl pills also found inside the dorms and youth's rooms.

County Supervisor Kathryn Barger issued a statement calling the death "devastating and inexcusable."

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"Being under the county's supervision should translate into having safe and compassionate care but we are falling short," she said. "I've been a proponent of making big changes -- including appointing an outside expert strategist that reports directly to our board to turn around the department's juvenile operations -- but tragically the changes didn't come soon enough."

County attorneys on Tuesday also appeared in court in response to allegations by state prosecutors that conditions in the facilities were "appalling." 

Last month, state Attorney General Rob Bonta slammed the condition of the juvenile halls and filed court papers seeking to force the county to immediately remedy "illegal and unsafe" conditions. The motion filed in Los Angeles Superior Court asks for an order requiring the county to comply with a 2021 judgment ordering improvements in conditions at juvenile halls, including improved staffing levels and ensuring that youth in the county's care are taken to school and medical appointments.

In a tentative ruling, Judge Michael Lindfield noted that neither the state nor the county dispute that conditions in the juvenile halls "do not meet the conditions set forth" in the 2021 judgment.

Linfield's tentative ruling called for officials from the county and the state Attorney General's Office to meet in the coming weeks and lay out proposed deadlines for complying with the judgment, with another court hearing tentatively set for June 20 to determine the next steps.

The state Board of State and Community Corrections has been considering possibly ordering the shutdown of the county's juvenile halls altogether due to lack of compliance with state regulations. The board declined to do so at its meeting last month, but another hearing is set for May 23.

Incarcerated youth fill planters with soil to plant a vegetable garden at the Barry J Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar on October 16 , 2013. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The county's juvenile halls have been under intense scrutiny in recent months. Last week, the county Board of Supervisors OK'd a sweeping plan for reorganizing the juvenile detention system. The plan included a relocation of most detainees, upgrades to most facilities and asking the sheriff's department to deploy volunteer reserve deputies to help fill holes in staffing.

Under the plan approved by the board, the Probation Department will reopen the previously shuttered Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey and move all "predisposition" youth to that facility. Central Juvenile Hall in Lincoln Heights will operate as a law enforcement intake unit and medical and diagnostic/assessment hub, while Nidorf Hall will serve solely as a Secure Youth Treatment Facility aimed at providing a more rehabilitative atmosphere for youth committed by a court to juvenile detention.

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The Board of Supervisors previously voted to advance a "Global Plan" for the placement and care of juvenile detainees, with a goal of reducing the overall number of juveniles in custody and development of additional Secure Youth Treatment Facilities to provide a more supportive environment for detained youth.

In March 2022, about 140 juvenile detainees were transferred from Central Juvenile Hall to Nidorf Hall -- a move that the county inspector general later concluded was orchestrated to avert a state inspection that appeared likely to fail.

Later in 2022, nearly 300 boys and girls filed a lawsuit alleging they were sexually assaulted, harassed and abused by county probation and detention officers while being held at juvenile facilities dating back to the 1970s. County CEO Fesia Davenport noted while releasing her recent budget proposal for the coming year that the county could potentially face liabilities reaching $3 billion from such abuse claims.

City News Service contributed to this report.