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Inspection of group home where teen killed does not have proper permit to operate

Posted at 5:55 PM, Sep 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-20 22:20:01-04

A city official tells ABC15 that an investigation into a facility where a teen was shot and killed earlier this month does not have the proper use permit to operate a group home in the residential zoned district.

ABC15 is told that a formal 15-day notice of violation of the Phoenix Zoning Ordinance was issued on Monday and sent to the owner.

Inspectors were sent to the North Star Independent Living Services located near 19th Avenue and Hatcher after City Councilwoman Debra Stark raised concerns about the correct permit to operate.

Two weeks ago Phoenix police responded to the group home near 19th Avenue and Hatcher Road for a shooting that left a young man dead, and another resident arrested.

Phoenix police officials confirm a shooting at this group home in Phoenix is not the first as multiple people were shot about 18 months ago.

A city official tells ABC15 that the Neighborhood Services Department has been in contact with the facility to connect them with the city’s Planning and Development Department to go through the correct registration and use permit process that is required to get into compliance.

North Star is contracted with the Department of Child Safety which is the agency that places kids in the care here.

Search warrant records show more than a half dozen guns were found inside the group home off of Mountain View Road, along with gun magazines, cartridges and drugs.

The documents show that nine guns, including an AM-15 were found inside one of the rooms on site.

Phoenix Police were at the facility three days before the shooting death of an 18-year-old resident.

Police found guns inside a backpack and a teddy bear, they also found narcotic drugs in the ‘form of blue M30 pills’ suspected to be synthetic fentanyl.

A former employee spoke with ABC15 about more allegations, that includes staffing ratios, “I’ve seen where they’re understaffed, I know they were understaffed, they were understaffed while I was there,” said Amelia Lopez, who resigned from her position earlier this year.

Lopez said like others, she had reported concerns to DCS, “you’re writing all these reports, and nothing ever happening, so, therefore, you know something major is going to happen, we spoke on this so many times.”

Affidavit records show that several of the guns found at the North Star facility have been reported stolen. They also found that one of the firearms had an ‘object affixed to the back,’ which they recognized as a “Glock switch.”

North Star has not gone on camera with ABC15, but they said in a statement that they are not able to use metal detectors or wands since they are prohibited by DCS.

It is unclear how many complaints DCS has received from staff, former staff members, or residents, but ABC15 has put in a public record request for the information.

Contract records show that North Star makes $135 to $200 a day per kid depending on the level of ‘trauma’ they are given.

The campus near Mountain View Road is licensed for 46 beds.

North Star owns five group homes, ranging in the number of licensed beds.

“You’re writing all these reports and writing all these reports, and nothing ever happening,” said Lopez, “therefore you know something major was going to happen, we spoke on this so many times.”

Lopez shared a secret recording with ABC15 from earlier this year in reference to a DCS licensing inspection.

“Oh! And, Brenda walked in when we were doing the checks to a kid smoking a blunt…”

Lopez identified the man speaking as Tom Delehanty, CEO of North Star as he talked about DCS witnessing the drug use of a resident.

“Cheech and Chong is like smoke coming out, you can’t make it up, but we got our license..” Said Delehanty in the recording.

During that same recording, Delehanty spoke about a gun clip being found as well, “…we were doing random searches, she was like ‘good job,’ she didn’t even mark it as a deficiency because we disclosed and we found it from our searches. And, the drugs, she said she understands that happens, ya know, probably every kid in here is smoking….”

Lopez left her job shortly after the recording.

A spokesperson for North Star said in a statement, ““The full conversation further proves that North Star is being proactive in its efforts to remove contraband and is properly reporting all incidents to DCS and to the resident's case manager as required.”

As for DCS, they have not answered specific questions about their response to incidents at this facility and licensing concerns, but they released a statement about the recording.

They said in part they don’t condone drug use or violence and criminal behavior, but they do help kids with substance abuse disorder seek help and work closely with juvenile justice partners.

A full statement is below:

"The Department takes these matters very seriously and is increasing its work to prevent recurrence of any such event. This includes specifically engaging in localized improvements with this provider. Additionally, the Department is engaged with its Juvenile Justice counterparts to further address risks of serving Juvenile justice and dually involved youth (those involved with both the Department and Juvenile Justice) in the community.

The fact that a young person made a bad decision, possibly used marijuana or another substance, is not in and of itself a group home licensing violation. Some young people in foster care, just as it is for young people in the community, will make bad decisions. The key is how we as the Department, the provider, and the community respond. The Department does not condone substance use, in fact we work very hard to support traumatized young people experimenting or suffering from substance use disorder to get help. Much in the same way, the Department does not condone violence or criminal behavior and we work diligently with our Juvenile Justice partners to assist young people so they may receive services and be held accountable should they commit criminal acts.

Respective of the group home, their responsibility is to support young people in making healthy decisions and aiding in the young person’s success. In the event the group home finds otherwise, they are to report those matters and work to prevent recurrence. If they are not reporting and not working to prevent such situations, this may lead to licensing investigations and potentially licensing action. Much in the same manner, if DCS staff observe such behaviors, the team should be documenting the situation and supporting the young person in receiving supportive resources and supportive relationships to cease those behaviors."