GBI: Youth detention officer who allowed deadly ‘fight game’ charged with murder

Credit: Ware County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Ware County Sheriff's Office

A boy died from injuries sustained at a South Georgia detention facility, officials said

A former juvenile correctional officer at a South Georgia youth detention facility was arrested Tuesday on multiple charges, including murder, after a boy in his custody died during a “fight game” he allowed, the GBI said.

Thomas Lee Hicks, 30, of Waycross, is facing one count of second-degree murder, two counts of second-degree cruelty to children and one count of violating his oath of office, the GBI said in a news release. Hicks was booked into the Ware County Jail, where he remains without bond.

Georgia’s Department of Juvenile Justice announced Wednesday morning that Hicks had been fired from his role as a correctional officer.

The GBI became involved in the case when officials at the Waycross Regional Youth Detention Center (RYDC) requested an independent investigation into an Aug. 9 incident that resulted in a boy losing consciousness while in custody, the state agency said.

The boy was treated by emergency medical personnel and taken to Memorial Health Hospital in Savannah, where he later died, according to the GBI.

At the time, the GBI said only that the boy had become unresponsive in the presence of several other youths and a detention officer. After Hicks’ arrest, the state agency said the boy’s injuries were the result of a fighting game that Hicks did not stop.

Hicks’ only sworn law enforcement experience is with the Waycross RYDC, according to records kept by Georgia’s Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) council. He first began working at the Waycross facility in 2014 and resigned in 2018 before returning for a second stint last year.

POST records indicate Hicks had no prior disciplinary history. After his arrest, Hicks’ certification as a law enforcement officer remained in good standing Wednesday, online records show.

In a statement, Juvenile Justice Commissioner Tyrone Oliver said he only learned of the GBI’s investigation into Hicks the afternoon before the officer was arrested.

“I immediately terminated Mr. Thomas Hicks from employment with the department,” Oliver said. “The actions of Mr. Hicks are deplorable and do not represent the core values of this agency.”

Oliver said the department was “deeply saddened” by the boy’s death and shared his condolences with the youth’s family and friends. The boy’s name was not released.

“DJJ takes the responsibility of operating safe facilities for youth and staff seriously. Should there be any evidence of staff or youth misconduct or criminal activity, we will take all appropriate measures,” Oliver said.

The investigation into the boy’s death remains active and the GBI is asking for tips from the public. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Waycross RYDC at 404-291-0208 or the GBI Region 4 Douglas Office at 912-389-4103. Anonymous tips can also be submitted online at the GBI’s website, by calling 1-800-597-TIPS (8477) or by downloading the See Something, Send Something mobile app.

Once the investigation is complete, the case file will be given to the Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office for review.