Georgia Bureau of Investigation Called
(GA) – On August 9, the Douglas Regional Office of the GBI was called to investigate the circumstances around an unconscious child at the Waycross Regional Youth Detention Center.
Information on juveniles is extremely difficult to get. This is done to protect the juveniles, but often helps to hide what is done to them. Very few details have been released on what happened. News sites have to resort to using the press releases.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation Press Release
The below is the original press release from the GBI. We are unable to tell when it was published. The original date was overwritten by the update.
On Tuesday, August 9, 2022, at approximately 9:00 am, the GBI Douglas Regional Office was requested by the Waycross Regional Youth Detention Center to investigate a juvenile that was reported unresponsive.
Preliminary information indicates that a juvenile was in the presence of a staff member and other juveniles at the facility when he lost consciousness. EMS was contacted and the juvenile was transported to Memorial Health Hospital in Savannah, Georgia for treatment. The juvenile later died.
This investigation is active and ongoing. Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Waycross RYDC at (404) 291-0208 or the GBI Region 4 Douglas Office at (912) 389-4103. Anonymous tips can also be submitted by calling 1-800-597-TIPS (8477), online at https://gbi.georgia.gov/submit-tips-online, or by downloading the See Something, Send Something mobile app.
Once the investigation is complete, the case file will be given to the Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office for review.
Below is the update to the GBI’s original press release.
Waycross, GA (August 16, 2022) – The GBI has arrested Thomas Lee Hicks, age 30, of Waycross, GA and charged him with one count of murder in the 2nd degree, two counts of cruelty to children in the 2nd degree, and one count of violation of oath of office. Hicks was a juvenile correctional officer in the Waycross RYDC. Information from the GBI investigation revealed that Hicks allowed juveniles to participate in a fight game in his presence. Hicks was arrested this evening, August 16, 2022, and booked into the Ware County Jail.
What We Know
On August 9, an investigation request was made to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The bureau was told that a juvenile lost consciousness while in the presence of a staff member and other juveniles. The investigation quickly became a criminal investigation. It was determined that the staff member who was present was juvenile correction officer Thomas Lee Hicks. The investigation concluded that the juveniles had been involved in a “fight game” which Hicks observed and allowed to continue.
Hicks was charged with second degree murder, cruelty to children, and violation of oath of office. He is currently in the Ware County Jail.
What We Don’t Know
No information has been released about the individual who was killed. We don’t even know if it was a male or female. We don’t known how old the child was or what he or she was there for. Other things we don’t know include, were injuries readily observable when medical staff was called? What was the official cause of death? Is the assailant(s) going to be charged for the assault?
The various state agencies have said Hicks was present. Was he just an observer? Or did he encourage the fight? What is in his disciplinary record? Have there been accusations against him in the past? If so, what was done to investigate those accusations?
I understand the principle behind keeping juvenile information confidential, but how can we protect juveniles in state care when it’s so easy for those agencies to hide what is happening?
Department of Juvenile Justice Press Release
The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is deeply saddened by the passing of one of our youths. We send our heartfelt condolence to the youth’s family, friends, and loved ones, and they remain in our thoughts and prayers. Upon learning this afternoon of the findings of the GBI investigation, I immediately terminated Mr. Thomas Hicks from employment with the Department. The actions of Mr. Hicks are deplorable and do not represent the core values of this agency.
DJJ takes the responsibility of operating safe facilities for youth and staff seriously. Should there be any evidence of staff or youth misconduct or criminal activity, we will take all appropriate measures.
Tyrone Oliver, Commissioner
Change is Needed to Protect Juveniles
There needs to be a better process to protect juveniles. One that doesn’t protect abusers and those who don’t want their reputation tarnished. Look at the words used by the state agencies. The GBI probably used Hick’s words when it says the child lost consciousness. Yet, they are silent on what they discovered. They don’t use words like “assault” or “murder”. We only know it was a murder because of the charges filed.
Look at what Commissioner Tyrone Oliver wrote. “…deeply saddened by the passing of one of our youths.” By the passing. The juvenile didn’t pass. The child was murdered.
Thomas Lee Hicks will go to trial. That won’t tell us a thing about any kind of systemic problems that are occurring. If the public doesn’t know, we can’t put pressure on the agencies to fix those problems. It’s our responsibility to ensure those children are in a safe environment. When are we finally going to shoulder that responsibility?