Prosecutors to review abuse case of children at Phoenix-area shelter

Dec 31, 2018, 11:03 AM | Updated: 4:30 pm
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, file)...
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, file)
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, file)

PHOENIX — Maricopa County authorities will turn over evidence that shows staff members allegedly physically abusing migrant children at a Phoenix-area shelter to prosecutors Monday.

Sgt. Joaquin Enriquez with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office said the case regarding Southwest Key employees allegedly dragging and pushing kids would be referred to the county Attorney’s Office.

“The immigration status of any potential victim will have absolutely no bearing on any charging decision,” Maricopa County Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Amanda Steele said in a Monday statement to KTAR News 92.3 FM. 

Steele said the timeframe for a charging decision is 48 hours for suspects in custody and 30 days for suspects not in custody.

“A charging review can result in the formal filing of charges, a return of the case to law enforcement for further investigation or additional forensic analysis, or a turn down where the case does not have evidence of a crime or sufficient evidence to meet our charging standard,” she said.

The Arizona Republic published surveillance videos Friday that showed staff members at the Hacienda Del Sol shelter in Youngtown allegedly dragging and pushing migrant children.

One of the videos showed a male staffer dragging and pulling a boy into a room before slapping him and pushing him against a wall. Another video showed a female staffer drag a child into a room after the kid laid down and tried to block a doorway. A third video showed a “disrupted classroom setting.”

All of the videos, which were obtained through public-records requests, were blurred by the Arizona Department of Health Services to protect the privacy of the children.

Enriquez said the sheriff’s office investigated allegations of child abuse and assault on minors on Sept. 14, 17 and 21.

After the investigation, the office made the decision to submit the case to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office to determine whether criminal charges should be filed.

“We are working with (the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office) to determine if all aspects of the potential allegations were thoroughly investigated,” Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said in a Monday statement to KTAR News 92.3 FM. 

“We must determine if all criminal violations were considered or if further review is necessary.”

The Youngtown shelter stopped housing children at the facility on Sept. 18 due to allegations of physical abuse involving staff members and at least three kids.

The abuse allegedly was reported to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Arizona Department of Child Safety and Arizona Department of Health Services. Details of the abuse were not provided.

All of the Southwest Key facilities that housed migrant children in Arizona stopped accepting minors in October after the parent company settled with the state over a missed deadline regarding employee background checks.

As part of the settlement, the Hacienda Del Sol and Casa Phoenix shelters surrendered their licenses and closed their doors.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino contributed to this report. 

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Prosecutors to review abuse case of children at Phoenix-area shelter