The Arizona Daily Star, March 4, 1998
Discipline of youths results in burns, broken jaw, fractured skull, suffocation, etc.--CPS finds abuse at Desert Hills
By Rhonda Bodfield and Alisa Wabnik
Child Protective Services verified four cases of staff abuse against youths at Desert Hills behavioral treatment center in the last five years, records obtained through a court order show.
CPS is still investigatingthe February death of 15-year-old Edith Campos, who became unresponsive during a restraint at Desert Hills and died two days later.
The substantiated CPS cases include cases in which children suffered rug burns and bruises from being thrown to the ground and dragged across the carpet. In addition, the reports include a case of a psychiatric technician pinning a child to the ground with his knee on the boy's neck.
Records of abuse documented by CPS since 1980 show that staff members, rather than youths, prompted the power struggles with patients.
In response to the CPS findings, Desert Hills fired one employee and placed two others on leave, promising to give them more training.
Kirke Cooper, a Desert Hills spokesman, repeatedly declined comment when told of each CPS incident by The Arizona Daily Star.
The abuse cases verified by CPS occurred in 1993 and 1994, when a different company owned the treatment center. The center's current owners, Youth and Family Centered Services of Texas, took over in November 1997.
The Arizona Daily Star obtained the 408-page file of all CPS investigations this week after a judge issued a court order.
Even in the cases that CPS deemed unsupported, records indicate that some children were hospitalized after being restrained. In 1980, a child's nose was broken. In 1984, a child went to the hospital with a broken jaw and fractured skull.
``Desert Hills showed a definite pattern and incidents of abuse toward residents. And incidents were more widespread than was first thought,'' a CPS worker told a Department of Economic Security licensing specialist in 1994.
Later that year, the state licensing agency also expressed concern that the facility was not reporting unusual incidents as required, such as injuries sustained during restraints.
At the time, both the DES and the state health department licensed behavioral health facilities, but neither revoked Desert Hills' license. Now, only the state health department licenses the facility.
The following incidents are detailed in CPS reports, which were given to the Star without identifying information about the children's conditions or names of staff members.
``Go ahead and try me''
CPS documented an October 1993 case during which a psychiatric technician injured a boy while dragging him across the carpet.
The boy, identified as Don, told a CPS investigator that he remembers the Desert Hills staff member yelling ``You want to try me? Go ahead and try me'' over and over again while pulling the boy up and down the carpeted hall.
The incident started when staff members learned about the boy's plan to run away, he told a CPS investigator.
Don and another witness told the investigator that Desert Hills staff hid him in a bathroom when a tour came through because his injuries were so bad.
Don's therapist at Desert Hills called the damage to his face ``disgusting'' and said the case reflected a pattern of staff using restraints after provoking children.
CPS discovered the case when it was investigating another abuse claim. Desert Hills never reported it to the agency.
Desert Hills also failed to respond when the boy's parents, who visited on the day of the incident, later requested an investigation through telephone calls and correspondence with the facility, according to CPS records.
Don's father, who worked in law enforcement, told an investigator he didn't use that level of force even when restraining adults. ``If I did what they did to Don on an adult, I would lose my job.''
The psychiatric technician told CPS that he restrained Don after the boy became angry over visitation restrictions. He said he recalled telling the boy to calm down and relax.
``You're going to be rude?''
In another case, a boy who had been raped at a different treatment center told CPS that two separate restraints at Desert Hills - both verified as abuse - dredged up memories of the prior assault.
In January 1994, the same psychiatric technician who restrained Don was angered that this boy, identified as Simon, ran away from the facility and wouldn't tell him why.
Allegedly, the staff member grabbed him by the front of his shirt, pushed him the wall and slammed him onto the carpet. Then he grabbed the back of the boy's neck and pushed his body into the carpet, saying repeatedly, ``You're going to be rude to me?''
The boy was crying when another staff member came to help take him outside, where the two men held him spread-eagle on the concrete for about 10 minutes, the report states..
The boy told CPS that the staffer who initially restrained him resembled the woman in Stephen King's ``Misery'' who endlessly tortured a helpless captive.
``He seemed to like to see me crying,'' Simon told the CPS worker.
The boy was restrained by a different psychiatric technician a month later after he tried to run away, the report shows.
A staff member took away his clothes as punishment and told him to sit in the hall. But during a struggle over a hairbrush he was still carrying, his underwear was ripped.
``He felt like he was being raped again. His clothing was torn, he was half naked and people were on top of him,'' a CPS investigator wrote.
A staff member who witnessed part of the restraint told CPS investigators that the use of force was common. Restraints are used ``if a child is a danger to himself or others, if a child is trying to go AWOL (run away), or if a child is yelling and screaming, emotionally out of control,'' she was quoted as saying in the report.
The witness told investigators she was bothered by the children's injuries and said she'd rather talk to the children than restrain them.
A knee to the neck
In the fourth verified case of abuse, a boy maintained he was thrown on the ground in January 1994 because he wouldn't give a psychiatric technician his shoes.
The boy, identified as Dennis, also had tried to run away. He said the staff member pinned him to the ground with his knee on the boy's neck. When the boy struggled because of the intense pain, the man's knee slid off his neck and hit his jaw.
He complained to a Desert Hills nurse of back pain and soreness in his lower jaw and neck, but the nurse never filed an abuse report with CPS as required, records show.
The staff member said he had to restrain Dennis because the boy pulled his arm back with a closed fist. He said he put his knee on the boy's neck to gain leverage in restraining the large youth.
In this and the other three verified cases, Desert Hills put the employees at fault on leave.
Desert Hills placed the staff member who restrained Dennis on leave for 22 days after he admitted violating the company's policy. He also was ordered to take another course in restraining patients.
Desert Hills placed the woman who restrained Simon on leave for 38 days and also ordered her to complete new training.
The man accused by both Simon and Don took medical leave to address drug addictions, then was fired after CPS verified both claims.
Suspicions since 1980
Records of other incidents show CPS workers have had cause for concern since 1980, even when they could not prove allegations of abuse. * In 1980, when the facility was named the Jay McCaffrey School, a boy's nose was broken when a staff member restrained him. The staff member said he thought the boy was going to strike him.
The CPS report concluded such an incident ``would not seem to be unusual for an agency treating rather disturbed children,'' but suggested the staff member should not have been acting alone.
* In 1984, a child claimed a staff member dropped him on his face while holding his arms behind his back. The boy suffered a concussion and a broken jaw.
The staff member said the incident occurred because the patient intentionally stomped on the employee's feet.
But CPS deemed the report invalid because investigators could not show how it differed from other restraints, except for the seriousness of the injury.
An internal review committee made up of five Desert Hills employees reached a similar conclusion. The committee questioned the staff member's judgment in handling the incident, saying it contributed to a power struggle. But the committee ruled the injury a ``freak accident'' and declined to discipline the employee.
* In 1986, the Department of Economic Security ordered Desert Hills to fire an employee who was a convicted child molester.
Nevertheless, Don Campbell, then the facility's director, appealed the order. ``I think it is important for us to have faith that people can be rehabilitated and become productive,'' Campbell wrote to the DES in an attempt to retain his physical plant coordinator.
The employee's psychologist also wrote on his behalf, saying, ``There is no history or indication of sexual attraction to children, other than the one relationship with his daughter.''
The DES refused to overturn the initial decision.
* Another employee was fired in 1991 on the same day he was arrested for harboring a girl who had run away from Desert Hills a month earlier. The man, who had sought to adopt the girl when he was working as a psychiatric technician, left his wife and children three days before the girl was found by police at his new apartment.
Meanwhile, a licensing report completed that same year indicated that Desert Hills' staff was too quick to restrain children instead of using other techniques.
* Two restraints in 1994 involving one child led to additional investigations. CPS found the complaints of abuse unconfirmed because there were no witnesses.
The boy involved complained that a staff member deliberately rubbed his face into the carpet, causing two coin-sized rug burns. ``It should be noted that he did have the rug burns on his face and CPS does question (his) ability to inflict such large burns on himself,'' the report states.
In the second incident, the boy alleged a staff member used a choke hold on him.
``I couldn't breathe or talk,'' the boy told CPS. ``I feel the staff takes their anger out on us. They push us to get out of control so they can restrain us,'' he told an investigator.
* A CPS intake report in 1996 said another child had four to five bruises on his knee, bruised elbows, a swollen left eye and a 2-inch rug burn on his face following a restraint by a staff member who was a former National Football League player.
The agency found the claim unsubstantiated, but expressed concern that the staff member restrained the child on his own even though other staff members were nearby.
In the child's version, the staff member picked him up from behind and slammed him against the wall. When he was on the ground, the staff member jammed his elbow in the boy's ear and pushed the side of his face into the floor. He also alleged the staff member put pressure on his already broken hand, despite pleas to stop.
A staff witness told the Desert Hills patient advocate that he saw the child's hand lightly brush the staff member's chest before he was restrained.
But he told the investigator he was afraid to speak candidly, explaining that he signed two documents confirming the center's version of events because, ``Basically my boss put it in front of me and told me to sign it. What can I do?''