Immigrant children were dragged and pushed by staffers at a shelter in Arizona, prompting local authorities to consider criminal charges after video of the incidents were obtained by the Arizona Republic. The facility — now shut down — was operated by Southwest Key, a Texas-based nonprofit organization.
The surveillance videos, initially released to the paper from the Arizona Department of Health Services and blurred to protect the identities of the children, shows one staffer dragging a child into a room by his arms, then shoving him toward a door. The child is seen swinging his arm at the staffer, who then appears to slap the child.
In another incident, two staffers are seen dragging two children by their arms through a door while the children appear to refuse to move their feet or stand.
On Friday, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office told the Arizona Republic that it had reviewed the September incidents but that "while physical force and restraint techniques were used against these minor children, these actions did not rise to the level of criminal charges."
By Monday, three days after the story was published and the videos circulated through social media, the sheriff's office appeared to reverse course on its decision.
"Based upon the evidence gathered during this thorough investigation, [Maricopa County Sheriff's Office] executive command has made the decision to submit the case to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office for its review and determination of criminal charges," Sgt. Joaquin Enriquez told BuzzFeed News in an email.
The case would be submitted to the county district attorney's office Monday, Enriquez said.
The department did not offer details on why it reversed course and decided to file the case with prosecutors after all.
According to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, the incidents captured on video occurred on Sept. 14, 17, and 21.
The facility, called Hacienda del Sol and located in Youngtown, Arizona, eventually shut down in October after an unspecified incident.
"We wholeheartedly welcome the Office of Refugee Resettlement's decision to suspend operation at Hacienda del Sol and are working to throughly retrain our staff," Southwest Key spokesperson Jeff Eller told the Arizona Republic then.
Southwest Key had been facing increased scrutiny for its role in housing children during the Trump administration's crackdown on immigration. In September, before the incidents in the videos surfaced, the Arizona Department of Health Services had moved to revoke the licenses for the centers' 13 locations in the state, saying they had failed to provide proof of background checks for its employees. Southwest Key settled with state regulators and eventually shut down only two of its facilities, including the Youngtown location
In August, one of its employees in Arizona was charged with molesting eight teenage boys. Separately, the New York Times reported earlier in December that Southwest Key is under investigation by the Justice Department for allegedly misusing government funds.
On Monday, Southwest Key declined to comment on the incidents in the videos being referred for possible criminal charges, and instead forwarded the statement the agency distributed to reporters when it shut down the facility in October.
"We are simultaneously engaging the Child Welfare Consulting Partnership to do an independent, top-to-bottom review of our processes, procedures, hiring and training in our Arizona Shelters," said the statement.