Paul Babeu is an Arizona sheriff and Republican congressional candidate best known for his support for harsh immigration policies and a bizarre scandal involving his Mexican former boyfriend that eventually led to Babeu coming out of the closet as a gay man. Before Babeu became Pinal County Sheriff, however, he served as headmaster of a Massachusetts boarding school for troubled teens that was allegedly a hotbed of child abuse. And a newly unearthed video shows him admitting that the school used abusive tactics against students in his care.
Four years ago, an Arizona ABC affiliate examined how The DeSisto school disciplined students under Babeu’s leadership. Tactics included denying food to teenagers for extended periods of time, requiring students to sit in solitude for weeks, regular strip searches, forcing students to do hard labor on a farm where they were deprived of food, water and schooling, and sexual humiliation. Among other things, a state investigation determined that students were required to hold hands even while using the bathroom or showering.
In one incident, a student with mental health issues was required to spent 14 hours a day sitting in a corner alone for weeks on end. The student became depressed and started urinating and defecating on himself. Eventually, the student had to be taken to the emergency room to be treated for pneumonia. After receiving treatment, the student was sent back to the corner.
Similar practices, such as solitary confinement, are increasingly regarded as a form of torture. As President Obama recently acknowledged, isolation-as-punishment is “increasingly overused” and can cause “devastating, lasting psychological consequences.” On Monday, his administration announced a ban on the use of solitary confinement for juvenile offenders in federal prison.
When confronted with these allegations, Babeu told a reporter that he didn’t “even know what he’s talking about.” Babeu’s lawyers later claimed that the future sheriff was not even aware of the abuse that occurred at the school.
A home video taken over 16 years ago, when Babeu was still at the school, reveals that Babeu was indeed aware of many of the tactics used to discipline the students. Indeed, he appeared proud of them.
The video shows Babeu enjoying Christmas dinner in 1999. At one point he talks about how “kids get sent to what’s called the farm, where they actually do manual labor.” At another point, he talks about students being “cornered for weeks,” a reference to the school’s practice of requiring children to sit alone in a corner “closed off from everything else.” He also talks about kids being “grouped” and “hand-held” in a possible reference to the practice of sexually humiliating students.
The students, he explains, are “hopeless” and they “have to bottom out and then be able to work through it.”
In a statement from his campaign, Babeu continues to deny that he is responsible for any abuse that occurred under his watch. “As the administrative head of the the school, I had no responsibility over student discipline and at no time was I interviewed by investigators on these issues,” he claims. He also alleges that “this is just an attempt to use my mentally unstable sister to attack me.”