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Staff allegedly lose control of girls at youth detention center; state suspends license

Girls during a July 7 incident at the Betty K. Marler Youth Services Center threatened to assault staff, were observed sexually fondling each other and used glass to cut their arms, according to the suspension order issued by the state.
Credit: KUSA
The Betty K. Marler Youth Services Center shares a campus with the Mount View Youth Services Center.

JEFFERSON COUNTY, CO — An incident where staff allegedly lost control of female teens at a local youth detention center has led to the suspension of the facility's license operation.

The Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) determined the facility, the Betty K. Marler Youth Services Center, was no longer safe after a July 7 incident in which residents threatened to assault staff, were observed sexually fondling each other and used glass to cut their arms, according to the suspension order issued by the state.

The center, located at 7862 W. Mansfield Pkwy., is located in unincorporated southeastern Jefferson County and housed 31 girls at the time of the incident. It's operated by Rite of Passage, a Minden, Nevada-based operator of 40 at-risk youth programs in 16 states.

In addition, Sandy Fisher, a guard who worked at the center, was arrested and is accused of sexually assaulting a girl at the facility.

RELATED | Guard at girl's youth detention center accused of sexually assaulting an inmate

According to the suspension order, on July 7, nine girls at the center refused to return to their units following recreational time, kicking off a series of events that ultimately led to to the state's decision to revoke the center's license.

Here is an outline of those events, according to the report:

  • After the girls refused to return to their units for 45 minutes, a shift supervisor called the Jefferson County Sheriff's department.
  • Jefferson County deputies arrived on scene but were told they could not enter the facility with their guns.
  • Five youth at the center climbed atop the roof of a vacant building. Two more sat at a picnic table. One girl had previously returned to programming, and the report is unclear where the ninth girl was at this time.
  • Mount View Youth Services Center staff were called for assistance. (Mount View and Marler share a campus).
  • The five youth on the rooftop threatened to assault anyone who approached them, and one girl threatened to jump off because she "didn't want to live anymore." Others removed their shirts and began sexually fondling one another and kissing.
  • Staff went onto the roof, restrained one student, and the other girls were eventually escorted off of or came down from the roof.
  • Mount View staff also observed residents walking around with no Marler staff present. Marler staff did not respond to radio calls for several minutes and took several minutes to relieve Mount View staff.
  • Mount View staff also observed the two girls at the picnic table engaging in sexual acts. They called Marler staff, who "eventually responded," after which Mount View staff observed a male Marler staff member throw a girl to the ground by her neck.
  • Later that evening, three of the five girls who had climbed the roof broke a ceiling fixture and "used the glass to open wounds on their arms." They were transported to a local emergency room to receive stitches.

"Those incidents endangered the safety of the youth in the facility’s care," said Minna Castillo Cohen, director of Colorado's Office of Children Youth and Families. "Concurrently, the facility has been under a performance improvement plan with CDHS, which was in place at the time the facility’s license was summarily suspended."

9NEWS also obtained the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office report about the incident. According to the report, when deputies arrived, they informed staff there that they could not intervene because nothing criminal was taking place.

The report says deputies then advised staff to put the facility on lockdown and said they would stand by to ensure no criminal act took place.

A staff member told them they would have to relinquish their firearms before entering the facility. When they refused, the staff member said they could "be on their way," according to the report. The deputies then stood outside until 5 p.m. to ensure a fence breach didn't occur, and left, according to the report.

Kent Moe, executive director for Rite of Passage, told 9NEWS that Marler staff contacted Mount View staff for help and that "the report is not consistent with the action on the ground."

"There was solid cooperation with Mount View and coordinated response that involved both entities," Moe said. "I think the report doesn't capture the level of cooperation that took place."

Moe said Rite of Passage intends to appeal the suspension.

"We have a legal remedy that we're pursuing," he said. "We're exploring the options afforded to us in the appeal process."

Moe also said the event "does not in any way capture the essence of the program."

"Kids can act out. A lot of times kids struggle with boundaries and limits," he said. "But it certainly doesn't in any way ... reflect the norm or the hard work that's been done there."

State licensing staff were called in Monday to assume operations of the facility and transition youth to other state-operated secure settings, or the next appropriate placement in their treatment plan.

Revocation hearings are generally set within 90 days of the filing of the notice of charges. Licensees are also entitled to an expedited hearing if they choose.

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