Detention center employees to be arraigned on Sept. 27

Sep. 5—Five former Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) employees facing cruelty to children charges in connection to a 2022 in-custody death at the Elbert Shaw Regional Youth Detention Center in Dalton are scheduled to be arraigned later this month.

Defendants Russell Ballard, Maveis Brooks, Monica Headrick, David McKinney and Rebecka Phillips are set to enter pleas of guilty or not guilty before Conasauga Judicial Circuit Judge Scott Minter on Sept. 27.

All five defendants were indicted on one count of first-degree cruelty to children for allegedly depriving Alexis Marie Sluder of "necessary medical care she needed while in the lawful custody of said defendants by not contacting emergency medical authorities in a timely manner."

Ballard, Brooks and Phillips are facing an additional count of first-degree cruelty to children — for offenses allegedly committed on Aug. 26, 2022 — and additional counts of second-degree cruelty to children for offenses allegedly committed on Aug. 27, 2022.

Sluder, of Ellijay, was 16 years old at the time of her death.

Ballard is described in a Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) release as a 62-year-old cadet from Chatsworth. Brooks, 35, is listed as a sergeant from Calhoun; Phillips, a 45-year-old officer also from Chatsworth.

Headrick, 61, of Ringgold, is listed as a nurse at the Dalton facility. McKinney, 53, of Rome, is listed as the detention center director.

Joe Montgomery, GBI special agent in charge of the case, told The Dalton Daily Citizen that several agencies — including the Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement Office — assisted in the investigation.

"We were requested by the Dalton Police Department to assist them with the in-custody death," he said.

Montgomery said he could not address specific circumstances surrounding the case.

"I really can't go into a whole lot," he said. "She came there and was not taken to the hospital until later on the next day — and that's really about it."

The cause of Sluder's death is not specified in either a Sept. 1 GBI release or a Whitfield County Superior Court bill of indictment document.

"I would be surprised if there were any more charges brought, but I'm not the last say so in that," Montgomery said. "If more information comes forward, yes, we would run those leads out ... as information comes into us, we always follow those leads out, no matter what course of the case that we're in, whether the case file's been turned over to the District Attorney's Office, we still run that information out."

Montgomery said he does not have any knowledge of further DJJ — or U.S. Department of Justice — investigations into the matter.

As he noted, "there's a lot of moving pieces" in a case of its nature.

April Parker, a representative of the Conasauga Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office, said that the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct bars prosecutors from commenting on the facts of a pending case.

In an official statement, the DJJ indicated that two of the defendants indicted earlier this month "were previously terminated" by the agency.

"Three others were still employed but are now terminated following the indictment," a Sept. 1 media statement reads. "DJJ is committed to the well-being and safety of the individuals trusted to our care. We remain deeply saddened by this tragic incident and continue to hold heartfelt thoughts and prayers for the family of the deceased."