LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Former employees of Wayfinder Family Services, where investigators Monday said a young counselor was killed over the weekend, say the facility has been a hotbed for violence for years.
“I’ve seen staff getting chased with weapons,” a former staffer, who did not want her name used, said. “There have been times where the youth will, you know, jump a staff member or they would break windows and chase people with glass.”
Photos provided to CBS Los Angeles by a former worker showed broken windows at the facility.
“So, I had one kid tell me, ‘Every night you come in, I’m gonna make your life a living hell,'” a former supervisor, who did not want his name used, said.
He worked at Wayfinder from February 2016 to May of this year. He said he quit due to safety concerns.
“It was just like, kind of taken as a given, like, ‘Oh, well, you know, we work with troubled kids, so these kinds of things happen,'” he said. “And it’s like, but what’s the plan to actually address it, and there was never one.”
He said the teens at Wayfinder often came from abusive homes, with many suffering from substance abuse issues and mental illness due to childhood trauma.
Both former employees said the same seven teens accused of beating the counselor to death when he tried to break up a fight have assaulted staff members before.
“Those same kids jumped another staff member and he tore his ACL in the skirmish,” the former supervisor said. “Those same kids also were trying to fight another resident, I don’t know too much about that, but apparently a staff member was stabbed during that incident.”
Sources said that a stabbing did take place at Wayfinder in November, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said it is called out to the nonprofit a couple of times per week on average.
The former staffer said she alerted management to dangerously low staffing levels at the facility, but nothing was ever done.
“I also mentioned that someone was either going to get severely hurt or someone was going to die, but no response,” she said.
Both former employees said there was security on staff, but they did little to protect workers.
“They observe and report, they’re very hands off,” the former supervisor said. “They would never ever touch the kids, even during a fight. They are just instructed to call the cops.”
Both the former staffer and former supervisor said current staff members last week sent a letter to the company’s President and Chief Operating Officer Jay Allen asking him to put a safety plan in place and to hire more security.
When asked about the incident, Allen said in a statement:
“We all mourn the loss of David Mcknight-Hillman, a frontline staff member who worked with foster youth in South Los Angeles. This incident is heartbreaking and our deepest sympathy goes out to Mr. Mcknight-Hillman’s family, friends, and colleagues. We are in close communication with Mr. Mcknight-Hillman’s family, offering our full support, and are providing counseling services to our staff and clients during this extremely difficult time. While we cannot comment on the specifics of this incident, we can say that the safety of our staff and the youth we serve is vitally important and an ongoing priority to our organization.”
Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services said in a statement that it would conduct a thorough review of Wayfinder, one of the department’s community-based providers, following the Mcknight-Hillman’s death.
“On a daily basis, child welfare professionals face a number of challenges that include working with youth in need of intensive mental health services for volatile behaviors due to histories of neglect and abuse,” the statement said. “DCFS and its partners in child welfare are committed to providing these youth in foster care with the supportive services needed as they work to overcome past traumas. Our most heartfelt condolences, thoughts and prayers go to David’s friends and family at this difficult time.”
On Wednesday, LASD said it had taken the seventh suspect, a juvenile, into custody in connection with the beating death of Mcknight-Hillman.