Staffers at detention facility caught on video abusing migrant children

Now-closed Arizona shelter was run by Southwest Key, a nonprofit whose owner has enriched himself under Trump

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published December 31, 2018 4:35PM (EST)

 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services via AP)
(U.S. Department of Health and Human Services via AP)

Workers at a Southwest Key shelter were seen pushing, dragging and slapping detained migrant children in videos obtained by the Arizona Republic.

The videos show several workers at the Hacienda Del Sol detention facility in Youngtown, Arizona, apparently abusing children being held at the shelter.

One video shows a male employee drag and pull a boy into a room where he slapped the child and pushed him against the wall. The child appeared to try to fight back before the staffer left. The boy was then seen pounding on the window to a door in an adjacent room.

Another video shows a female employee dragging a child through a room. A third video shows an incident in a classroom, though it’s unclear what happened from the blurry images.

The videos were released by the Arizona Department of Health Services, which blurred the images.

The Arizona Republic reported that the videos were recorded in mid-September and that Southwest Key reported the three incidents to state officials and law enforcement.

Southwest Key was forced to close the shelter in late October after officials threatened to revoke its licenses for all 13 facilities the organization has in Arizona because it failed to perform required background checks on its employees. The company was also forced to shutter another facility in Phoenix. The children from the two closed facilities were moved to other Southwest Key locations.

Prior to the shelter forced closure, the facility was dogged by allegations of child sexual assault. One case involved a child who was allegedly sexually assaulted by another boy. That one ended in a plea deal, while two other allegations were found to be unsubstantiated.

Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Joaquin Enriquez told the Arizona Republic that the incidents were investigated but no charges were brought.

"The investigation 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," he said in a statement, adding that state law allows the kinds of restraint techniques workers were seen using in the videos.

After the videos were published, the sheriff’s office, which said the videos did not warrant criminal charges a day earlier, said it would now refer the incidents to prosecutors.

The sheriff’s office said in a statement to the Arizona Republic that the office has reconsidered the videos after a “thorough investigation” and will ask the Maricopa County Attorney's Office to review the cases to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.

Southwest Key has been under scrutiny since the Trump administration began to separate migrant children from their families earlier this year.

The New York Times reported that Southwest Key houses more migrant children than any other organization. The organization, which is officially a nonprofit run by millionaire Juan Sanchez, has collected more than $1.7 billion in federal grants over the last decade, including $626 million in the last year.

After expanding operations following President Trump's election, Southwest Key can now house up to 5,000 children in 24 shelters, some of which are in gutted former Walmart stores.

Along with its nonprofit shelters, the organization has also created a number of for-profit construction, maintenance and food service companies that funnel money back to the nonprofit through high management fees, the Times reported. It has also acted as a bank, lending millions of dollars to real estate developers.

“Though Southwest Key is, on paper, a charity, no one has benefited more than Mr. Sanchez, now 71,” The Times reported. “Serving as chief executive, he was paid $1.5 million last year — more than twice what his counterpart at the far larger American Red Cross made.”

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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