Third escape at Woodland Hills, despite security upgrades

escape!From Corporate Media

Another break out at Woodland Hills Youth Development Center Friday left officials scrambling to improve security there for the third time this month.

Around 11 p.m. Friday, 13 teenagers broke out of the juvenile lockup after two of them attacked a guard and stole his keys and radio.

Metro police working alongside the Tennessee Highway Patrol had taken 12 of the teens back into custody within hours. Sixteen-year-old Timothy B. Willis from Lawrence County, whose record includes theft, assault and runaway charges, was brought into custody early Sunday morning..

After overpowering the guard, the teens used his keys to get out of their dorm and into an outdoor courtyard on the complex, according to a DCS statement. One of them wriggled through a small gap between the perimeter fence and a rolling gate.

He threw a rock through the guard house window on the other side and opened the gate, freeing the others.

Teens at Woodland Hills generally have three felonies on their records, according to DCS spokesman Rob Johnson. Before the escape, there were 65 teens at Woodland Hills.

The 52 other teens being held at Woodland Hills remained secure.

“We believe the students tried to get other youth to join in, but they refused,” the statement read.

Fourteen staff members were working at Woodland Hills during the breakout. Two of them sustained minor injuries.

Juveniles at Woodland Hills attack guards fairly frequently, according to numbers provided earlier this month by DCS. As of Sept. 9, the agency had counted 51 such assaults.

“Aside from calling for help on a radio, the guards have few methods to control the youth,” the statement read. “They do not have weapons or pepper spray.”

History of escapes

This is the third time this month that juveniles at Woodland Hills were able to bust out of their dorms late at night.

On Sept. 1, 32 teens kicked through dorm walls and crawled under a weak spot in the perimeter fence. Late on Sept. 3, teens broke out of their dorms again, spurring hours of rioting in an outdoor courtyard that stretched into the next morning.

Two juveniles from the Sept. 1 escape are still at large.

DCS spokesman Rob Johnson said many of the Friday night escapees also had participated in the previous incidents.

Moving forward, he said, officials at the department would collaborate with staff at Woodland Hills to improve safety protocol. They are already looking for ways to close the gap between the gate and the fence.

Some of the repeat offenders might be transported to other facilities across the state, Johnson said.

The Tennessee Department of Correction, which sent extra guards to Woodland Hills earlier this month, might do so again.

“They’ve offered to help and if we feel like we need it we’ll certainly take them up on it,” Johnson said.

Changes were already underway based on the earlier escapes. The department has retrofitted all the dorms to provide more security, added additional metal plates to doors and begun construction on a low concrete buffer to surround the perimeter fence.

Manhunt still on

If you know anything about Timothy B. Willis’ whereabouts, police urge you to contact them at IMA-PIGG