Florida sends disabled teen back to place that can’t help him with his demons

Keishan Ross, a 17-year-old who has spent much of his life cycling between Broward County’s juvenile lockup and a Panhandle facility that has had little luck correcting his behavior, is on his way back to the Panhandle.

Keishan has been diagnosed with a significant intellectual disability, as well as mental illnesses. At least 13 times since 2011, psychologists have declared him incompetent to stand trial for a host of criminal charges. Broward judges repeatedly have dispatched him to the Apalachicola Forest Youth Camp to be “restored” to competence, only to watch him return weeks or months later. He has then been declared incompetent again, and the cycle repeats.

Keishan has committed crimes ranging from robbery to assault. He has an intelligence score somewhere between 51 and 61, reads at a first- to second-grade level and has been diagnosed with ADHD and bipolar disorder, among other ailments. Experts have determined he cannot comprehend the complexities of the legal system — such as knowing the role of the judge or of his own attorney — and he is therefore incompetent to stand trial. When that happens, he finds himself sent from the Broward juvenile lockup to Apalachicola, a place whose mission includes restoring teens to competence. From there, he has been sent back to the Broward lockup.

He is a case study in how the state’s juvenile facilities — as well as adult prisons — have become warehouses for the mentally ill.

Earlier this month, Keishan’s lawyers had arranged for the teen to be tested and treated at a Fort Lauderdale psychiatric hospital, but the facility later refused to accept him, his lawyers say, when a Department of Juvenile Justice probation officer called him violent and remorseless. He’s picked up two new felony charges at the Broward Juvenile Detention Center during the past month in addition to other pending charges.

With no options, though, Broward Circuit Juvenile Judge Michael Orlando ordered Keishan returned to Apalachicola — at least until the teen’s advocates or state social service administrators can arrange a more appropriate home.

Gordon Weekes, who heads the Broward Public Defender’s juvenile division, said state disability administrators have agreed to perform an expedited evaluation of Keishan, meanwhile, with hopes of finding a residential facility that can keep him — and those with whom he comes in contact — safe.

Keishan was the subject of reporting in the Miami Herald after he raged, screamed and kicked the door while reporters were taking a tour of the Broward juvenile lockup led by DJJ’s secretary, Christy Daly.