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Arizona sheriff acknowledges missteps in shelter probe

January 8, 2019

PHOENIX (AP) — The sheriff of the state’s largest county on Monday acknowledged missteps in his office’s investigation of a shelter for immigrant children and said he’ll hire two auditors to help ensure reports of crimes against minors get proper attention.

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said that early reports of the investigation into September incidents at the Southwest Key shelter in Youngtown, Arizona, mistakenly gave the impression the case had been closed. His news conference came after videos surfaced late last year showing staffers in September dragging and shoving children at the shelter outside Phoenix.

The videos were first obtained by The Arizona Republic.

He said his office also erred in not working more closely with the county attorney’s office.

“It’s my responsibility ultimately to make sure all investigations are done thoroughly,” he said.

Prosecutors have not decided whether to file charges.

Closed in October, the shelter in Youngtown had held immigrant children who came to the U.S. without a parent or in some cases were separated from family.

Southwest Key was forced to shutter Hacienda del Sol in an agreement with the state health department after a separate probe found the organization hadn’t properly done background checks on all of its employees. It also was required to take other steps to ensure the safety of children in its care.

Before the investigations, Southwest Key had about 1,600 children in 13 facilities in Arizona. That number was cut in about half by the end of 2018.

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