A former employee is suing AMIkids Beaufort, a wilderness camp for juvenile delinquents that's sponsored by the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice, claiming that he was fired in "direct retaliation" for submitting a worker's compensation claim after he was punched in the eye by a student.
Johnnie Millen worked as a teacher and vocational instructor at the camp, which is used as an alternative to prison for teenage offenders. More than a year after his firing, his lawsuit has been transferred to U.S. District Court for judgment.
In the lawsuit, Millen claims that he was with a group of about 15 students on Sept. 4, 2020, when one of them punched him in the eye, leaving a "large, hemorrhaging open wound." He claims that nobody responded to his call for help on the camp's radio system, and that the executive director of the camp, Matthew Kingdom, refused to assist him.
He called an ambulance for himself, and in a follow-up medical appointment was ordered out of work due to the eye injury until Oct. 15, 2020. In the same time period, he was diagnosed with a heart condition and contacted Kingdom about using the Family Medical Leave Act to get time off for surgery.
The S.C. Department of Social Services also began an investigation of the Sept. 4 incident to see whether Millen was at fault. Millen was fired on Oct. 13, 11 days before the investigation was actually completed, according to the lawsuit.
On Dec. 10, the department "found that the evidence did not support a determination that (he) had abused or neglected the student/attacker," according to the lawsuit. Millen did not get his job back.
Millen is asking the court for back pay and pay for lost job opportunities from AMIkids Beaufort. The lawsuit was originally filed in Beaufort County's 14th Judicial Circuit in August. The case was transferred to U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina on Tuesday; there hadn't been any previous action in the case.
AMIkids, a national company with seven programs in South Carolina, has come under fire in the past. The director of South Carolina's Department of Juvenile Justice resigned in 2017 a day after state legislators questioned him on the death of 16-year-old Del'Quan Seagers at AMIkids Sand Hills. Seagers had been referred to the camp after violating his probation for stealing a candy bar.
In 2014, a staffer at the Beaufort camp was placed on administrative leave after reports that he slapped and hit a child at the camp, landing the child in the hospital. Nobody was arrested in that incident.