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Virginia governor calls for probe into abuse allegations at facility that holds immigrant teens

The Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Staunton, Va. Immigrant children as young as 14 housed at the juvenile detention center say they were beaten while handcuffed and locked up for long periods in solitary confinement, left nude and shivering in concrete cells. The abuse claims are detailed in federal court filings that include a half-dozen sworn statements from Latino teens jailed there for months or years.) (Zachary Wajsgras/AP)

RICHMOND — Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday called for an investigation into charges that juvenile immigrant detainees had been subjected to violent and abusive treatment at a publicly owned holding facility near Staunton.

The Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center holds about 30 Latino youths between the ages of 10 and 17 who have been detained by federal agencies over the past several years for being undocumented. A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of the youths claims that they have faced “violence by staff, abusive and excessive use of seclusion and restraints, and the denial of necessary mental health care.”

The center is owned and operated by several counties and cities in the region and holds juvenile offenders for the local court system as well as immigrant detainees on behalf of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

A teen in MS-13 was detained at the border and held for years. A judge just set him free.

“If Virginia public safety officials find evidence of abuse or mistreatment at this facility, my administration will do everything we can to ensure the safety of these children,” Northam said Thursday in a tweet.

Northam, a Democrat and pediatric neurologist, said he asked the state agencies that oversee public safety and juvenile justice to look into the charges and “report back to me about any steps that may be necessary at the state or federal level to ensure the safety of every child being held there.”

He said he was concerned about the “disturbing allegations of abuse.”

The class-action lawsuit was disclosed Thursday by the Associated Press, but it had been filed last October in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Virginia by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

“Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center believes the allegations of the complaint to be without merit and looks forward to the opportunity to present evidence that will allow a jury to reach the same conclusion,” facility executive director Timothy J. Smith said Thursday via email.

The lawsuit details a lengthy list of allegations, including detainees being locked in their rooms for 12 to 14 hours per day, having inadequate food and being forced to use the toilet under the view of guards. One teenage detainee claimed he was tied to a chair and beaten by staffers after getting into a fight with a juvenile offender. Another youth said he was handcuffed and forced to his knees after failing to leave a book in his room when he went to class.