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Crime News

Juvenile Detention Center Workers Charged Year After Death of 16-Year-Old Georgia Girl with the “Prettiest Smile”

“At the end of the day Alexis deserved better,” Alexis Sluder’s family said after the indictment of five former employees of Elbert Shaw Regional Youth Detention Center.


By Dorian Geiger
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Five former employees of a Georgia juvenile detention center are facing charges after a 16-year-old died in their custody last year. 

A Whitfield County grand jury indicted the former director of Elbert Shaw Regional Youth Detention Center in Dalton on August 28, along with three guards and a nurse in the 2022 death of teenager Alexis Sluder, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced.

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Sgt. Maveis Brooks, 35, cadet Russell Ballard, 62, officer Rebecka Phillips, 45, nurse Monica Hedrick, 62, and detention center director David McKinney, 53, are all facing varying first and second-degree cruelty to children charges in Sluder’s death. 

On August 27, 2022, Sluder died at the Georgia correctional center hours after being transferred there, according to the Associated Press. The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice then claimed Sluder had perished due to “an illegal substance she ingested” prior to arriving at the juvenile detention facility. Officials didn’t disclose what charges she’d been facing or whether the teenager was serving a sentence.  

Studer was later pronounced dead at Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton, Georgia. Local police requested the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to overtake the probe into Sluder’s death. The Dalton Police Department and the Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement Office also assisted state authorities in the investigation. 

According to the newly-filed indictments, the three correctional officers charged in Sluder’s death — Brooks, Ballard, and Phillips — allegedly were negligent and are accused of depriving Sluder of medical emergency assistance. The trio were all charged with two counts of first-degree cruelty to children and one count of second-degree cruelty to children. Brooks, Ballard, and Phillips were fired last month following their indictments, a spokesperson for the Department of Juvenile Justice confirmed with the Associated Press.

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McKinney was terminated earlier this year. Hedrick, a contracted nurse affiliated with Augusta University, was fired last year. 

“DJJ is committed to the well-being and safety of the individuals entrusted to our care,” the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice wrote in a statement after the indictments. “We remain deeply saddened by this tragic incident and continue to hold heartfelt thoughts and prayers for the family of the deceased.”

Sluder’s family welcomed news of the indictments, calling her death “painful and preventable.”

“The family is very satisfied that the Whitfield County Prosecutor’s Office is taking Alexis’s death seriously,” a lawyer for Sluder’s family said in a statement obtained by WTVC-TV. “Although this criminal prosecution will not bring her back to her family, it is a step towards accountability. People who are incarcerated are still human beings with constitutional rights to be free from the kind of conduct exhibited by the officers. The people in charge had a responsibility to take care of her, but instead, a family lost their teenage daughter. At the end of the day Alexis deserved better.”

Sluder was born in Whitfield County and attended Gilmer High School, according to her obituary. She played softball and competed in beauty pageants, where she routinely won the “prettiest smile” category.