Surveillance video obtained by WPLG-TV 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.
Citrus Center is a 28-bed, locked residential treatment program for youths who suffer from severe emotional, psychological, and behavioral issues, according to the Broward County Public Defender's office. The Department of Children and Families contracts a private company to run the facility.
Letter alleges problems at facility
In a letter to interim DCF Secretary Esther Jacobo and Pembroke Pines Police Chief Dan Giustino, Broward County Chief Assistant Public Defender Howard Weekes wrote that one of his clients was pepper sprayed and punched while she was at the facility.
"While detained at the facility the child was charged with resisting arrest with violence, disorderly conduct, and criminal mischief," wrote Weekes. "The incident was captured on CCTV and requires an immediate and through investigation by the department."
Weekes wrote that girls treated at the facility are routinely placed in isolation for long periods of time and tied face down 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.
No complaint was made over the incident until Weekes' letter was received, according to spokespersons for the the Department of Children and Families and Pembroke Pines Police Department.
"DCF takes all allegations of abuse very seriously and has launched an investigation to determine if abuse has occurred. The investigation is open. The Department will be working with the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the Agency for Healthcare Administration to get to the bottom of these allegations," DCF Communications Director Paige Patterson-Hughes said in a statement.
The police department didn't immediately return calls for comment.