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Videos showing shelter staffers pushing, shoving migrant children under review for possible criminal charges

A case regarding the alleged abuse of migrant children in a Southwest Key shelter will be referred to the Ma...

Posted: Dec 31, 2018 11:05 AM
Updated: Dec 31, 2018 11:05 AM

A case regarding the alleged abuse of migrant children in a Southwest Key shelter will be referred to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office for review and to determine whether criminal charges will be filed, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

The news comes after the Arizona Republic obtained surveillance videos through an open records request that show staffers pushing and dragging migrant children in a shelter operated by Southwest Key, the nation's largest provider of migrant children shelters.

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According to the newspaper, the incidents took place at the Hacienda Del Sol shelter in Youngtown, Arizona, in mid-September and involved three children and numerous staffers.

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office initially told CNN it investigated the allegations but determined the actions did not rise to the level of criminal charges.

But the office changed its mind and said in an updated statement released Sunday: "Based upon the evidence gathered during this thorough investigation, MCSO executive command has made the decision to submit the case to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office for its review and determination of criminal charges."

The case will be submitted on Monday, the sheriff's office said.

Videos show staff members shoving, dragging children

Southwest Key closed the Hacienda Del Sol facility in late October after negotiations with state health authorities who were considering revoking the licenses of 13 Southwest Key shelters in Arizona, according to the Arizona Republic.

CNN previously reported the Arizona Department of Health Services considered the move because Southwest Key had failed to provide the department with proof it conducts background checks on employees.

The videos were blurred and edited by the state's Department of Health Services, which licenses the migrant shelters.

One clip published by the Arizona Republic shows a male staffer dragging a young child into the room and pushing him against the wall. There appears to be a confrontation between the two before the male staffer leaves the room.

Another video shows a female staff member pulling a child through the room and attempting to enter another room.

The child lies on the ground and the female staffer drags the child through the doorway as another staff member pulls a different child into the conference room and drags that child into the next room.

CNN has filed a Freedom of Information request to obtain the videos.

Two staffers fired, source says

Southwest Key declined to comment on the case now being referred to the Maricopa County Attorney, but referred CNN to a statement the company issued at the time of the incident.

"We wholeheartedly welcomed the Office of Refugee Resettlement's decision to suspend operations at Hacienda Del Sol and are working to thoroughly retrain our staff," Southwest Key spokesman Jeff Eller told the Arizona Republic in a statement on October 5.

"We are simultaneously engaging the Child Welfare Consulting Partnership to do an independent, top to bottom review of our processes, procedures, hiring and training in our Arizona shelters."

According to a source with direct knowledge of how the incidents in the videos were handled, Southwest Key self-reported to the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Refugee Resettlement and local police at the time the events occurred.

After an internal investigation, two staff members were fired and additional disciplinary measures were taken against other staffers, the source said.

The Arizona Department of Health Services confirmed in a statement to the Arizona Republic that it did receive a report about the incident in mid-September and that it prompted an investigation and an on-site inspection.

CNN has reached out to both the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Department of Health and Human Services for comment.

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