Congresswoman Katherine Clark: Sheriff Babeu stonewalled abuse case while running boarding school

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu obstructed and stonewalled a state child abuse investigation at a Massachusetts boarding school he used to run, according to a lead attorney on the case.

In a stunning coincidence -- as Babeu runs for Congress -- the state attorney who handled the case is Congresswoman Katherine Clark.

In an exclusive interview with ABC15, Rep. Clark said the case involving the DeSisto School is the most horrendous case she ever worked while representing the Massachusetts Office of Child Care Services for the Attorney General’s Office.

“It was really just a cesspool of really horrendous practices towards children,” Rep. Clark said. “I think it’s rather appalling to think that he is overseeing people with badges and guns, and that he thinks he is fit to run for Congress." 

Clark continued, “The things that went on at that school still really haunt me, and I think they should haunt him.”

SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: ABUSING THE TRUTH

Before moving to Arizona and being elected sheriff, Babeu worked at the DeSisto School from April 1999 to August 2001, records show. During that time, child care investigators opened a case to stop abusive and inhumane practices and force the school to obtain a license.

ABC15 first exposed Babeu’s ties to DeSisto and the horrific abuse at the school in 2012.

At the time, he threatened to file a lawsuit. His attorneys claimed he had no ‘knowledge’ and wasn’t ‘aware’ of any mistreatment of students.

But Clark said she needed to speak out after ABC15 obtained a damning home video recorded in 1999 that shows Babeu discussing abusive punishments in detail.

“As the video shows, the Sheriff knew exactly what was going on and decided to condone it instead of speaking up for very vulnerable children,” said Clark, who also said she was disturbed by Babeu’s repeated denials.  “There was absolutely no way you could be involved with that school and not have known what was going on.”

DeSisto was a therapeutic boarding school for teens. Many of the students had a wide range of special needs, including eating disorders, depression, paranoid schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, self-harm and suicide attempts, learning disabilities, and substance abuse issues.

In the home video, Babeu praises the school’s extreme disciplinary methods used on the children. He called one of the most punitive practices “amazing.” He tells family members that the students “need to feel hopeless and feel depression.” The goal is to make them “bottom out.”

Despite the video evidence, Babeu continues to minimize his role at the school. In response to this story, he issued a written statement.

It begins, “I do not recall ever meeting with this attorney nor was I a principal in any state investigation that occurred during or after my two-year employment at the school. As headmaster, I oversaw administrative issues with the school and had no involvement in discipline or student affairs.”

(READ MORE OF BABEU’S STATEMENT BELOW)

Rep. Clark said she remembers meeting Babeu. However, she said he quit working at the school before state investigators could depose him.

State child care officials launched a civil licensure case to curb DeSisto’s dangerous practices in May 2000 – directly in the middle of Babeu’s tenure. But Babeu left the school August 2001, one month before the state ruled it needed to obtain a license and stop its dangerous practices or be shut down, records show.

During that time, Clark said Babeu was “definitely part” of trying to keep state investigators away.

“He had a high role there,” Clark said. “When he was there, he really stonewalled our investigations at every turn, as did the school.”

During Babeu’s time as DeSisto’s administrative head, the school violated court discovery orders, repeatedly withheld records, obstructed, and was sanctioned, according to an order written by a superior court justice.

In his statement, Sheriff Babeu did not respond to Clark’s statements about him stonewalling the state’s case or what state documents show on the matter.

The rest of his written statement said, “But what this does show is the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee has a target on me and they will sink to baseless personal attacks and spare no expense to keep this seat from falling into Republican hands. I reject this politics of personal destruction.”

Rep. Clark is a Democrat representing a district surrounding Boston. She pushed back the claim that her comments are political.

“This case wasn’t about who’s a Democrat or Republican. It’s about the welfare of children,” she said.

“It was ritualistic child abuse - a sort of lord of the flies situation, where some of the children were groomed into positions of discipling other children, including some really egregious things like students strip searching other student when they arrived at the school,” Clark said. “That was the type of allegation we were trying to investigate when the Sheriff was in charge of the school, and we were met with a complete stonewall.”

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at dbiscobing@abc15.com.

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