‘Baby Shark’ song used to torture teen at juvenile detention center, lawsuit claims

FILE-Teens enter holding cells at a juvenile detention center. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Two teenage girls staying at the Adair County Juvenile Detention Center in Kentucky claim they were kept in isolation cells and were living in substandard conditions at the facility, a federal class-action lawsuit filed this week alleges.

Both of the teenage girls who brought the Kentucky lawsuit said they were kept in isolation during their entire stay at the facility in 2022, with few chances to take showers. 

Citing the lawsuit filed Monday, the Associated Press reported one of the teens, who was 17 and seven months pregnant at the time, said she was let out of her cell just five times in one month to take a walk.

A claim in the lawsuit alleges that a child held in isolation with the door’s window covered had to listen to a Spanish version of the toddler’s song "Baby Shark" playing constantly on an audio loop, WAVE-TV in Kentucky reported. 

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In addition to the accusations detailed in the lawsuit, WAVE reported that teens didn't receive meals at the detention center, they couldn’t take showers, faced alleged abuse by staff members, had limited contact with their parents and attorney, and they didn’t receive proper educational instruction at the facility. 

"We deny the allegations in the lawsuit and will defend accordingly," Morgan Hall, the Cabinet's communications director, said in an email response obtained by the Associated Press. "For any staff member who violates policy and procedure, corrective action is taken."

Citing the lawsuit, the Lexington Herald Dealer detailed other allegations from the lawsuit involving staff members exposing teen girls' nude bodies to members of the opposite sex through a forcible removal of their clothes or holding on to their clothing while in view of employees and other detainees. 

Male detention center staff workers allegedly performed cell checks on girls detained without clothes. Additionally, the suit claims some were locked in isolation for weeks despite mental and physical illnesses that could have prevented staff using extended lockdowns, the Lexington Herald Dealer noted.

More accusations WAVE-TV details from the lawsuit states that a juvenile detainee was held in an insect-infested room, girls were not given hygiene items, and another youth stayed in a padded cell without a toilet and was left soiled in their waste for weeks. 

In August 2023, the ACLU of Kentucky filed a complaint calling for the Department of Justice to probe the awful conditions at the Adair County Juvenile Detention Center.

The lawsuit names several state officials, including the head of the state Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, Kerry Harvey, and former state Juvenile Justice Commissioner Vicki Reed, who retired on Jan. 1. Harvey is due to retire at the end of the month.

According to the AP, the lawsuit alleges that juvenile detainees had their civil rights violated at the facility in south-central Kentucky and that the center failed to properly train staff. The suit seeks unspecified actual and punitive damages.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Washington, D.C.