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61 charged in Avon Park youth riot

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POLK COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

The Polk County Sheriff's Office has completed its investigation into the riot at Avon Park Youth Academy and charged 61 male residents of the juvenile detention facility.

The individuals, who are 16-18 years old, are all facing felony charges stemming from the August 17 incident authorities say was prompted by a wager over a basketball game. The teams of residents at the facility were playing for cups of noodle soup, but the losing team didn't pay up, the sheriff's office said.

At a minimum, each of the 61 charged faces rioting and felony mischief charges, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a news conference on Friday. Other charges include burglary and grand theft.

"These 61 aren't misguided children," Judd said. "These 61 are hard core thugs that were incarcerated by the DJJ."

Judd also said the riot was preventable, if staff had been able to have equipment such as pepper spray to get offenders under control. DJJ does not allow those items to be used at juvenile facilities, but Judd said that means those operating the facility had "no tools to deal with out of control thugs."

DJJ does not plan to revisit the issue of allowing pepper spray or chemical restraints, said DJJ spokeswoman Meghan Speakes. DJJ is planning to install security cameras at Avon Park Youth Academy, she said.

DJJ is doing its own investigation and has been interviewing staff at the facility, she said. The next step is to interview the teenagers who were there.

In a written statement released after the arrests were announced, DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters said "DJJ is committed to taking the lessons learned from the incident at Avon Park Youth Academy to ensure that the youth we serve are provided the right services, in the right place, in the right way, at the right time in order to fulfill our mission of reducing juvenile delinquency and increasing public safety."

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