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OJJ secretary gives shaky explanation about juvenile escapes after canceling interview

2 years 3 months 1 week ago Monday, February 28 2022 Feb 28, 2022 February 28, 2022 4:30 PM February 28, 2022 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - The state is trying to toughen the juvenile jail system after a series of escapes, the agency's director said in an impromptu interview in the parking lot of his office.

Deputy Secretary Bill Sommers spoke with WBRZ near his car after the WBRZ Investigative Unit showed up at his office after Sommers repeatedly denied interviews and canceled the only time he agreed to meet for a scheduled interview.

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WBRZ has reported for months on the ongoing issues at he Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice.  Nearly 50 troubled juvenile offenders have managed to escape secure facilities.

For months, WBRZ has been trying to speak with Sommers about the issues.

Over a period of three months, one juvenile, Demarion Simmons, escaped three different times. Simmons escaped with another juvenile, Brennan Hebert, who was re-booked into a juvenile facility with a loaded weapon. Sources told WBRZ that happened due to woeful incompetence.

Law enforcement around the state is becoming increasingly frustrated with what's happening, as they become tasked with having to apprehend the juveniles who escape.

WBRZ scheduled an interview with Sommers last week. Hours before the interview, his spokesperson canceled.  They said Sommers was being "pulled away."

The WBRZ Investigatve Unit caught up with him leaving work the same day of the canceled interview.

"The cancellation, ummm, sorry about that," Sommers said outside of his vehicle. "Umm, really, the cancellation is I had a meeting downtown."

"I'm responsible, Chris," Sommers said while speaking to WBRZ Chief Investigator Chris Nakamoto. "I'm 100 percent responsible for [what's going on with the escapes]."

Nakamoto asked what Sommers is doing to hold himself accountable. "I don't understand the question," Sommers responded.

After being asked a second time Sommers responded that additional security measures are being put in place at each facility but did not elaborate. 

Sommers declined to talk about the juvenile who was re-booked with a loaded weapon, citing an ongoing investigation.

The number of incidents involving juvenile escapes more than doubled last year compared to previous years statewide. There are five OJJ facilities in Louisiana. The facility in Monroe had the most escapes, where 32 juvenile offenders got away in a two-year time frame.

Sommers was appointed by the governor to the position of deputy secretary and began in September 2020.

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