U.S. NEWS
12/30/2018 07:23 EST | Updated 12/31/2018 22:11 EST

Videos Show Migrant Children Being Slapped, Dragged At Since-Shuttered Arizona Shelter

The Hacienda Del Sol shelter, run by the embattled Southwest Key Programs, was shut down by the federal government in October.

Surveillance videos obtained by the Arizona Republic show migrant children being slapped, pushed and dragged by employees at a since-shuttered shelter run by embattled shelter provider Southwest Key Programs.

In one video, a male staffer at the Hacienda Del Sol shelter in Youngtown, Arizona, is seen pulling and dragging a young boy into a room before slapping him and pushing him against a wall. The child then appears to strike back at the employee who retreats from the boy and leaves the room.

A second surveillance clip shows a female employee at the shelter dragging a child into a room. Another staff member is seen in the same video dragging and pulling another child across the floor.

The Republic said the videos were obtained from the Arizona Department of Health Services under state public-records law. The clips were blurred by the department to protect the children’s identities.    

According to the Republic, Southwest Key had reported the incidents shown in the videos — all of which occurred in mid-September — to state authorities, local law enforcement and federal officials.

The shelter was shuttered by the federal government in early October. At the time, Southwest Key said the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) had decided to suspend operations at Hacienda Del Sol because of an unspecified incident.

“We wholeheartedly welcomed the [decision] and are working to thoroughly retrain our staff,” a spokesman for the Texas-based shelter operator said. 

It’s unclear whether the encounters shown in the surveillance videos were directly linked to the shelter’s suspension. The Republic reported in October, however, that the facility was shuttered because staffers there had been found to have physically abused children.

In a Monday statement, the Department of Health and Human Services said “all staff” seen in the surveillance videos were “suspended pending an investigation.”

“Our focus is always on the safety and best interest of each child.  These are vulnerable children in difficult circumstances, and ORR exercises its custodial responsibility for each child with the utmost care,” a spokeswoman told HuffPost. “When any allegations of abuse or neglect are made they are taken seriously, investigated and swift action is taken.”

“Consistent with ORR policy, in this case, all staff involved in the incidents were suspended pending an investigation. Local law enforcement, the state Department of Child Safety and licensing authorities, and the HHS Office of the Inspector General were notified of these incidents,” she added.

Southwest Key declined to elaborate on the surveillance videos, the Republic said on Friday. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office told the paper that it had reviewed the surveillance clips and determined that “while physical force and restraint techniques were used against these minor children, these actions did not rise to the level of criminal charges.”

Southwest Key is the country’s largest shelter provider for migrant children, according to The New York Times. The shelter operator has come under scrutiny in recent months for an array of issues, including accusations of child sexual abuse, the possible misuse of federal money and the failure to conduct adequate background checks on some employees. 

A staffer at a Southwest Key shelter in Phoenix was arrested in July for allegedly molesting a 14-year-old girl at the facility. About a month later, an employee at a shelter in Mesa, Arizona, who is HIV-positive was convicted of sexually abusing several boys

Mark Weber, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, told the Times earlier this month that there had been “numerous red flags and licensure problems” with the Hacienda Del Sol shelter, as well as another Southwest Key shelter in Phoenix, which the federal government also shuttered in October.

This post has been updated with a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services.