Colorado shuts down DeNier youth detention center days after Contact7 investigation

DENVER -- The Colorado Department of Human Services has shut down the privately-run DeNier Youth Services Center in Durango after finding one or more children were improperly restrained by staff twice in recent weeks.

The shutdown comes two days after Contact7’s investigation into the private company, Rite of Passage, that ran three detention centers in the state. The state previously shut down the Betty K. Marler facility in Lakewood.

The state said “emergency action” was required at DeNier after the company running the facility failed “to provide safe conditions for the children” and committed a “willful or deliberate violation” of state standards.

In an order suspending the facility’s license to house juveniles convicted of serious crimes, Minna Castillo Cohen, the director of the state Office of Children, Youth & Families, laid out reasons why the state took the action against Rite of Passage.

On July 20, a Rite of Passage employee referred to as “Mr. Phillips” claimed a boy became aggressive towards him and that the boy slapped a radio off of Phillips. The company claimed the boy then reached out and grabbed the staffer with both hands.

The state reviewed video which it says showed a different series of events.

“The video shows Mr. Phillips pushing the youth in the back after the youth exited the bathroom,” the suspension order stated. It then says Phillips cornered the boy and escalated the situation.

At some point, the boy did hit the radio away, the state says the video shows, but Phillips then pushed the boy against the wall and took them down to the floor by their neck.

"At no point did the youth grab or attempt to grab Mr. Philips," the report says. "Mr. Phillips then grabbed the youth first by the shoulders, then by the neck. Mr. Phillips then pushed the youth against the wall and took the youth down to the floor by the youth’s neck. Mr. Phillips placed the youth in a prone position, laid on top of the youth, and continued to hold him by the neck until other staff arrived. Mr. Phillips weighs significantly more than the youth."

The state says Rite of Passage employees claimed the boy received medical attention immediately.

The state says its review showed the student didn’t receive medical attention for three days.

Next, Rite of Passage said it would fire Phillips, then agreed to let him resign, but failed to do so as of two days later, the state claims.

In another incident, Rite of Passage claimed a juvenile punched a staff member in the face. The state document identifies the employee as Mr. Webb.

When the state reviewed the video of the incident, its report says Webb first grabbed the juvenile out of a chair after they threw some trash at Webb.

“This resulted in a struggle, and only at that point did the youth punch Mr. Webb,” the document says.

A Rite of Passage spokeswoman says the youth wasn't hurt.

“The same student was involved in both incidents and was not injured,” said Lynea Hansen. The state report does not make it clear if the youth involved in the incidents was the same person.

Contact7 Investigates reported two stories recently on three facilities operated by Rite of Passage in Colorado after allegations youth were harmed.

The state shut down the Betty K. Marler Facility after staff lost control of teen girls who climbed on the roof of the facility July 7. A state report, reviewed by Denver7, found kids were in danger.

“Youth were threatening to assault anyone who approached them. One youth ran towards the roof’s edge and threatened to jump off and land on her head because she did not want to live anymore,” a state report on the matter reads.

At one point, the state says, residents removed their shirts and were sexually fondling each other and kissing.

The state has also threatened to shut down the Ridge View Youth Services Center east of Aurora after a staffer punched a juvenile in the face while they were restrained and another incident in which a child who was trying to walk away from the facility was severely injured by staff.

Rite of Passage’s regional director, Kent Moe, said in August the company’s facilities are well-run and said that he disagreed with the state’s assessment that there are continued problems.

"We have been working with the at-risk youth of Colorado in the Durango area for 18 years. We are proud of the hundreds of students who have successfully completed our program over that time and gone on to lead productive lives. The decision by the State of Colorado to close the DeNier facility this morning, suspend our license and move the students was unexpected,” Moe said Thursday.

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