By Zachary Fagenson and David Adams
MIAMI (Reuters) - Authorities in Florida are investigating allegations that guards at a Miami juvenile detention center bribed young inmates with sticky buns and candy to attack other prisoners who were difficult to manage, officials said on Tuesday.
The investigation comes after a brawl in early September at the center caused serious injuries to 17-year-old Elord Revolte, who died in a hospital the following day.
According to media reports, guards at the Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Center promised contraband food like honey buns, Skittles candy, hamburgers and fried rice to inmates if they inflicted beatings on fellow prisoners.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said it had opened an investigation of the detention center. "Since the investigation is active we are not able to offer further comment at this time," a spokeswoman said in an email.
More than a dozen minors told lawyers that guards used food to reward them for violently handling those inmates they could not manage themselves, public defender Marie Osborne told local TV station WPLG.
It is unclear whether the beating that led to Revolte’s death was among them. However, the Office of the Miami-Dade State Attorney said on Tuesday it was investigating the incident, as well as the broader claims of guard misconduct.
"These are descriptions of child abuse," said state attorney spokesman Ed Griffith. "There are avenues of this that need to be explored."
Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice, which runs the detention center, said on Tuesday it had launched two separate investigations last month into the death of Revolte and the allegations that guards encouraged beatings.
"We take these allegations very seriously. They are appalling," said Heather DiGiacomo, communications director for the department.
While former detention center inmates have also given anonymous interviews to local media, none have so far offered sworn statements to prosecutors, Griffith said.
For years the Department of Juvenile Justice has been dogged by allegations that guards have mistreated young inmates or failed to properly supervise them.
Along with Revolte, Miami police are investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of a 17-year-old former inmate who was gunned down last month, allegedly by a man he beat in jail, according to the Miami Herald.
(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson and David Adams; Editing by Eric Beech)