Southwest Key to face criminal review, more regulation after incidents caught on video
Videos obtained by The Arizona Republic show staffers dragging and pushing migrant children. Arizona Republic
The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office forwarded its investigation of child maltreatment at a shelter for migrant children to prosecutors Monday, while a state lawmaker outlined possible legislation to provide more oversight of such shelters.
The sheriff's office formally asked prosecutors to determine whether criminal charges are warranted against Southwest Key due to a series of incidents in which children were shoved and dragged at the Hacienda Del Sol shelter in Youngtown.
The mid-September incidents were captured on surveillance video and released last week by the Arizona Department of Health Services in response to a public-records request.
The video, which is blurred to protect the children's privacy, clearly shows protesting children being shoved and dragged through a conference room by shelter staff.
Initially, sheriff's detectives determined the incidents did not rise to the level of a criminal offense. But over the weekend, Sheriff Paul Penzone and his top staff decided to send the case to Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery's office after further review of the file, which includes hours of surveillance video.
Youngtown shelter closed
Meanwhile, the federal Department of Health and Human Services, which contracts with Southwest Key for shelter services, said it takes seriously allegations of child abuse or neglect and acts swiftly to address them.
"These are vulnerable children in difficult circumstances, and ORR exercises its custodial responsibility for each child with the utmost care," Evelyn Stauffer, a Health and Human Services spokeswoman, said in a statement Monday.
Moments before Melania Trump’s arrival at a Phoenix Southwest Key facility protesters chant “Melania Trump you cant hide, we can see your racist side.” The Republic | azcentral.com
In this case, the department's Office of Refugee Resettlement suspended operations at the Youngtown shelter in early October, just weeks after the incidents captured on video occurred.
In late October, Southwest Key agreed to shutter that facility as part of a settlement agreement with state health authorities. The state health department had threatened to revoke all of Southwest Key's shelter licenses because of lax response to a request for background checks. The state licenses Southwest Key as a behavioral-health facility.
More oversight in the works
A state lawmaker is looking to strengthen the health department's oversight of such facilities.
State Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Phoenix, said she is working on draft legislation that would allow the Department of Health Services to do unannounced inspections of the facilities the agency licenses, require annual inspections by state authorities and increase fines. Currently, if a facility has been approved by the Council on Accreditation — an outside organization not tied to state government — the state must accept that in place of doing its own inspections.
In addition, Butler said she'd like to see the state add the names of any facility employee who is found to have abused or neglected a child to the state's Central Registry. The registry is a list, maintained by the state Department of Child Safety, of people who have been determined unfit to work around children.
Butler said she hopes to garner bipartisan support for the proposal, which is still in the draft phase.
The legislative session begins Jan. 14.
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