Specifically, cases of staff members accused of getting physical with juveniles – which is against protocol.
“They’re supposed to use de-escalation techniques, they’re supposed to talk to the kids, try and calm them down, but every time we’ve come out here, we come for the same thing,” Sarah Shanno, an agent with the Department of Child Safety (DCS), was overheard on body camera footage saying to police.
What’s the Arizona Department of Child Safety really up against?
They call on law enforcement to step in and advocate for delinquent youth and at-risk children.
On April 8 of last year, a Queen Creek Police officer responds to Desert Lily Academy, the all-girls school located at Canyon State Academy (CSA).
The campus is state-certified, licensed with the DCS and is owned by Rite of Passage.
“One of the staff was trying to restrain one of the kiddos and in the process of taking her down, she has bruising and I’m gonna be frank, a big a–, like it looks like road rash down the side of her face,” Shanno said to Queen Creek Police.
Security footage shows the student walking up a ramp to a building that is password restricted.
“A little context. She’s been all over the place all day. They’ve tried to keep their hands off of her, she’s been in this building before. My understanding is she’s gotten razor blades from the shavers and other kind of contraband things,” Brian Heath, executive director of Rite of Passage said to police.
“They are what we call a QRTP. So technically they’re not supposed to be putting their hands on these kids, but they do, and the kids have injuries 90% of the time,” Shanno said to police. QRTP stands for Qualified Residential Treatment Program.
‘He hit me so hard’
The alleged reason?
“I haven’t yet,” Officer Williams said.
“I literally had to go sit down for a second to catch my breath so that I could walk up here and report it,” the student said.
“My perspective, being 30, you’re a little less than half my age right? I couldn’t even fathom closed fist striking you with any real intent,” Officer Williams said to the student.
Clark was charged with aggravated assault but completed the felony diversion program to have his case dismissed.
On May 19, 2022, officer Williams is back at CSA for another assault call.
The DCS agent is talking about Edwin Peña Lopez, a CSA staff member.
“And then he came and put his elbow on me on this side of my face. That’s why this all got scraped up,” the victim was heard explaining on body camera footage.
He answers, “Yes, I believe it’s called a shoulder assist. Kind of escort the student physically.”
“Is any of that trained?”
Lopez is charged with aggravated assault and enrolled in the felony diversion program.
On July 18, 2022, Queen Creek Police return to campus.
The 16-year-old student says staff member Phillip Miller tackled him onto concrete.
This happened nearly a month prior to the report.
“He should have definitely gave him some space – the kid is not listening to him. He should allow another staff to take over,” Gloston said to police.
More reports of assault at Canyon State
FOX 10 spoke to the chief of Queen Creek PD, Randy Brice.
Police reports reveal on July 20, 2022, a DCS caseworker told officers that a CSA staff member assaulted a kid two days prior, allegedly throwing the boy into a wall and causing him to black out.
There’s no video of these two incidents and the county attorney’s office declined to prosecute both cases, citing no reasonable likelihood of conviction.
Chief Brice says GCPD has offered CSA training on de-escalation and restraint tactics.
Police reports show commonalities brought up by the staff members investigated.
CSA & DCS statements
“The safety of our youth is paramount. Canyon State Academy has a zero tolerance for abuse, properly reports any allegations of misconduct, and terminates or retrains staff based on investigation findings.
The Department of Child Safety says CSA has been transparent in reporting to DCS through a hotline.
“The safety and well-being of children in our care is our first priority. The Department has been working with Canyon State Academy to address both contractual and licensing matters as it relates to this issue and how to better manage youth who have experienced trauma. In all cases, Canyon State was transparent in reporting what they knew at the time to DCS. In cases where CSA was aware of an allegation, it was reported to the Hotline per mandated reporter law. The Department has partnered with Canyon State leadership and their risk management team to provide better training and resources for staff. There has been a reduction of events and improved outcomes for youth as a result.”
Below are the statuses of each case.
Since the inception of the Queen Creek Police Department in January 2022, there have been 19 cases stemming from CSA as of June 26 of this year.
UPDATE: Since the inception of the Queen Creek Police Department in January 2022, there have been 19 cases stemming from CSA as of July 19 of this year. Four of them led to five suspects being charged with assault or some sort of assault type charge, five of them were declined to be prosecuted by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, eight were found not to have probable cause and two remain either under investigation or are still being reviewed by the county attorney’s office.