Staff members at a migrant shelter in Arizona apparently dragged, hit, and shoved children, according to surveillance videos obtained by the Arizona Republic last week under a state public records law. Although the Maricopa Sheriff’s Office initially said the videos showed no grounds for criminal investigation, the office reversed course Sunday, referring the case to a local district attorney.
The shelter’s operator, Southwest Key, came under fire last fall for its lax background checks of staff, a reportedly common occurrence at migrant shelters. The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement suspended operations at the Youngtown, Arizona facility, which was the site of the alleged abuse in the recently-obtained videos, in early October. Later that month, Southwest Key shut down the facility, as well as another branch in Phoenix. The incidents in the videos reportedly occurred in September, one month before the shelter was shut down.
The videos are the latest in a string of incidents involving abuse against migrant children at Southwest Key-operated facilities. In August, a youth care worker at one of the shelters in Mesa, Arizona, was charged with molesting at least eight teenage immigrant boys who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border unaccompanied.
According to the Arizona Republic, the videos show staffers dragging, slapping, and pushing children. As the abuse occurs, footage shows that “workers doing other tasks in the conference room go about their business, with one seen adjusting her ponytail,” the report noted.
Southwest Key officials have promised to retrain staff and hire a consultant to review the company’s policies.
The allegations come amid the recent deaths of two migrant children who died while in the custody of U.S. Border Patrol this month. The children, seven and eight years old, allegedly died of dehydration and the flu, respectively. One prominent Republican Congressman described this as an “excellent record” earlier this week.