Surveillance video obtained by Local 10 shows a police officer punch a 14-year-old girl in the face during an arrest at a psychiatric center for adolescents.
The video (posted above) shows the girl walking down the hallway of the Citrus Center for Adolescent Treatment Services among a group of nurses and police officers on April 28.
When one of the officers grabs the girl's arm in an attempt to place it behind her back, she turns around and swings at him. He then punches her in the face.
The punch knocks the girl to the ground, and the angle of the camera only shows several officers on the floor and one throwing another punch. Another sprays her with pepper spray as she is on the ground.
"When an officer uses that type of force against a mentally ill child, there is no other conclusion than that officer is using excessive force," said Broward County Chief Assistant Public Defender Howard Weekes.
In a letter to interim DCF Secretary Esther Jacobo and Pembroke Pines Police Chief Dan Giustino, Weekes wrote that the girl in the video was charged with resisting arrest with violence, disorderly conduct, and criminal mischief.
According to the Pembroke Pines Police Department, the call came in as 30 residents beating six or seven staff members. Department officials said the girl was inciting others to fight with police, and that the officer's actions appeared to be consistent with his report
as well as department policy and training regarding use of force.
No complaint was made over the incident until Weekes' letter was received, according to spokespersons for the Pembroke Pines Police Department and the Department of Children and Families.
"DCF takes all allegations of abuse very seriously and has launched an investigation to determine if abuse has occurred," DCF Communications Director Paige Patterson-Hughes said in a statement.
Letter alleges problems at facility
Citrus Center is a 28-bed, locked residential treatment program for youths who suffer from severe emotional, psychological, and behavioral issues, according to Weekes. The Department of Children and Families contracts a private company to run the facility.
Weekes also wrote in his letter that girls treated at the facility are routinely placed in isolation for long periods of time and tied facedown to beds for minor infractions.
"Even more disturbing than the excessive use of physical restraint, is the use of chemical sedatives," he wrote. "While tied down by their arms and legs, chemical sedatives are administered to further subdue female patients. Young girls at this facility are routinely injected with a substance that often renders them unconscious and unable to recall events that transpired during the period of restraint."
Weekes said patients in the facility call the concoction "booty-juice."
"This mental health facility is simply tying-down and knocking-out little girls who behave in accordance with their mental illness," wrote Weekes.
In his letter, Weekes quoted a section of the Florida Administrative Code describing how mental health patients sometimes respond to trauma.
"The response to trauma can include intense fear and helplessness, a reduced ability to cope, and an increased risk to exacerbate or develop a range of mental health and other medical conditions. The experience of being placed in seclusion or being restrained is potentially traumatizing," states the section of the code that Weekes quoted.
"Yet here, the physical and chemical restraint of minor girls is a common practice within the facility," continued Weekes. "Incident reports documenting the frequency and circumstances giving rise to the use of physical and chemical restraint are not adequately maintained. There exists no compelling medical, psychological or therapeutic reason to warrant the widespread use of such a barbaric practice; yet it is ongoing. Most troubling and abhorrent, is the fact that the repeated use of restraining sedation has exacerbated the occurrence of disruptive behavior because it is believed that several girls intentionally engage in misbehavior in order to receive the chemical sedative 'booty-juice' so they can get high."
Weekes added that girls and boys receiving treatment at Citrus Center are housed together in living facilities and share restrooms. He also wrote that a man working there was described to be dating a girl receiving treatment.
"The Pembroke Pines Police Officer that punched the female patient in the face, the use of chemical sedatives and physical restraints along with the other conditions described at the facility requires that Citrus Center of Adolescent Treatment Service be immediately investigated," he wrote.