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Maricopa County Attorney's Office declines to prosecute Southwest Key cases

Children Shelter Investigation Southwest Key AP Photo
Posted at 1:38 PM, Mar 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-29 22:11:53-04

PHOENIX — Prosecutors have decided to not press charges in connection with instances of possible abuse at Southwest Key facilities last year.

Videos of the incident showed staff roughly handling children, including pushing and shoving them, at a shelter in Youngtown last September. The incidents and video were first reported by the Arizona Republic.

"The video evidence in this case supported a full investigation of all the surrounding circumstances," County Attorney Bill Montgomery said in a statement announcing the decision. "After thoroughly reviewing and carefully assessing the context within which these events took place, along with additional evidence developed by the investigation, we have determined there is no reasonable likelihood of proving beyond a reasonable doubt the required elements of a felony offense."

Southwest Key subsequently closed that shelter and one other as part of an agreement with the state to keep its licenses. Last month the state Department of Health Services allowed the organization, which has a contract with the federal government to house migrant children found crossing into the country illegally, to begin taking in more children at one of its facilities.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office began reviewing the case after the sheriff's office had submitted evidence of possible abuse.

Detectives initially declined to file charges in the case, but took another look after the Republic published the videos, which it obtained through a public records request. Sheriff Paul Penzone has previously said the first time he saw the videos was when the Republic published them, and the case was inadvertently marked as fully investigated.

Prosecutors say their investigation found none of the children involved were injured, found no intent to hurt the children and said they did not share any feelings of being mistreated.

"Ultimately, prosecutors did not have evidence to prove that any use of force was unreasonable to gain compliance or to establish that the physical health and emotional well-being of the children had been placed in danger," the county attorney's office said.