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Alleged dragging, shoving of children in migrant centers under investigation: Sheriff's department

December 31, 2018 - 1:37 pm
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(PHOENIX) -- The Maricopa County Sheriff's Department is investigating footage of unaccompanied children allegedly being dragged and shoved inside a shelter in Arizona.

The videos, first published by The Arizona Republic, appear to show the alleged mistreatment taking place in a Southwest Key shelter in Youngtown.

Southwest Key shelters, which are located in several states, drew national attention this summer because some of its facilities that were tasked with housing children who were separated from their parents after immigrating to the U.S.

The sheriff's department investigated "several allegations of child abuse and assault on minors occurring on September 14th, 17th, and the 21st of 2018," according to a statement from their office.

"After the initial response by patrol deputies, detectives conducted a thorough investigation of all three incidents, including interviewing all involved parties and witnesses, and conducting forensic interviews with the child victims," the sheriff's department statement said, adding that its investigators reviewed hundreds of hours of surveillance camera footage.

"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," the statement reports.

The incidents allegedly took place at the Youngtown shelter, called Hacienda Del Sol, which the company closed in October.

In response to ABC News' request for comment on the evolving nature of the case, Southwest Key's spokesman Jeff Eller responded with a statement that the company released in October.

"We wholeheartedly welcomed the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s decision to suspend operations at Hacienda Del Sol and are working to thoroughly retrain our staff. 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," Eller said in the October statement, which he forwarded to ABC News Monday.

The Arizona Republic blurred the videos in question so the faces of both the children and staff are not visible. A staff member appears to shove a young boy, while another seems to shows different staff members dragging other children.

Sgt. Joaquin Enriquez from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office said in a statement to The Arizona Republic on Friday that "the investigation determined that while physical force and restraint techniques were used against these minor children, these actions did not rise to the level of criminal charges."

Still, the case is being submitted Friday to the County Attorney.

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