Arizona Daily Star, February 25, 1998

'Restraint' by suffocation--One teenage girl dies, another nearly loses consciousness--Monitor assigned; Desert Hills still yielding evidence
By Rhonda Bodfield

The Department of Juvenile Corrections announced yesterday it will step up monitoring of the embattled Desert Hills Center for Youth and Families.

The announcement came as police served the facility with another search warrant.

Sgt. Eugene Mejia, Tucson Police Department spokesman, said detectives are investigating as many as seven allegations of abuse at the facility. That includes the recent death of 15-year-old Edith Campos following a 10-minute restraint and a case in which a 14-year-old girl allegedly nearly lost consciousness while being restrained.

Campos died at Tucson Medical Center Feb. 4, two days after she was held down for 10 minutes by a Desert Hills employee, lost consciousness and stopped breathing, according to a police report. Preliminary autopsy results revealed no apparent medical cause of death, although police are investigating the possibility Edith died of asphyxiation.

Mejia declined to release details on yesterday's search warrant except to say it was served in an attempt to determine if claims in one of the allegations is true.

``As long as it continues to be publicized and we continue to get reports alleging abuse, we will continue with our investigation. This will be routine until we complete all our investigations and don't have any other allegations,'' Mejia said.

The key to the investigation, he said, will be the final autopsy report, which he said he hopes will be completed this week.

Meanwhile, juvenile corrections officials decided to place 24-year-veteran administrator F. Sam Vaccaro at Desert Hills to observe the treatment of youth offenders at the facility.

Juvenile corrections has 30 youths placed at Desert Hills to help the youths make the transition from juvenile detention to freedom.

Vaccaro will start later this week and will spend 40 hours a week at the facility ``on a random basis so he's seeing things as they are,'' said department spokesman Steve Meissner. Vaccaro's assignment will be temporary until the police and the Department of Health Services finish their investigations.

Until then, Meissner said the department will not do anything else to modify placements of youths at the facility.

``This is simply an effort to make sure that everything is being done appropriately pending additional information that might come out of these investigations. It's important to remember we don't have all the facts yet,'' Meissner said.

Vaccaro, who has a master's degree in psychology from Pepperdine University, served as superintendent of the department's two secure facilities for juveniles in Phoenix - Adobe Mountain from 1991 until January 1994 and Black Canyon until last week. He will be in charge of the new 200-bed juvenile unit in Buckeye when it opens in August.

Desert Hills spokesman Kirke Cooper said he was not aware of the appointment of a special monitor, but the private for-profit facility will cooperate with the increased scrutiny.

``We welcome any (health care) provider to come and view the treatment of their patients . . . ,'' Cooper said.

Arizona Daily Star reporter Enric Volante contributed to this story.

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