Whistleblower honored by SPLC

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Three years ago, Tawana Bolton was in very different situation. She's the woman no longer afraid to say she leaked surveillance video to News 7 back in 2011 showing abuse inside the Forrest County Juvenile Detention Center. On that video, juveniles are shown thrown and slammed against walls and tables, hogtied and left in cold dark cells and even dragged down hallways. Before the video even aired, it turned into a legal battle between News 7 and Forrest County's Youth Court and Sheriff's Office. News 7 won and aired the video.

When asked about how life is now, Bolton said much better.

"It's great. I see a lot of the kids. They thank me. A lot of the parents thank me for what I did," said Bolton.

For being a whistleblower the Southern Poverty Law Center recently recognized and honored Bolton for what she did.

Bolton says she's happy with the outcome of exposing the abuse and says she wouldn't change anything. Bolton worked at the center for 8 years before being fired, she says for reporting the abuse. The sheriffs office contends it was for forging medical excuses. Between being fired and leaking the video, Bolton says there were moments of intimidation with threats of indictments and prison time, none of which happened.

"A lot of folks said they were scared for me and I'm pretty sure they were and I was too," said Bolton. "That fear came from me knowing Chief Bolton, me knowing the sheriff, me knowing what they are capable of."

After the video aired the non-profit group Disability Rights Mississippi took Forrest County to court over access to juvenile offenders. With the help of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a monitor was eventually put in place. Looking back on it, Bolton says the last three years have been worth it.

"I'm glad it just came to the light about what was really going on behind the doors because no one ever sees what goes on behind the detention center doors," said Bolton.

One of the guards shown in the video was fired for misconduct. All of the juveniles shown received financial settlements from the county. Bolton then sued the county in federal court claiming she was wrongfully terminated. According to federal documents, Bolton agreed to settle out of court with the county's insurance carrier for a six figure amount.

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