Surveillance footage that shows a Florida police officer punching a 14-year-old female mental patient in the face has launched an investigation into the conditions at the Citrus Center for Adolescent Treatment Services in Pembroke Pines, Fla.
The 14-year-old girl is being held at the state psychiatric facility, which is described as a locked residential treatment program for youth who suffer from severe emotional, psychological and behavioral issues, according to the Broward County Public Defender's office.
The video footage of the incident, which took place on April 28, shows the girl walking down a hallway when an officer attempts to grab her arm and place it behind her back. The girl turns around to strike the officer. The officer responds by punching her in the face. She falls to the ground and several officers try to restrain her. Another officer is seen throwing a punch and sprays her with pepper spray, News4 reports.
"While detained at the facility the child was charged with resisting arrest with violence, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief," Broward County Chief Assistant Public Defender Howard Weekes wrote in a letter to the Florida Department of Children and Families. "The incident was captured on CCTV and requires an immediate and [thorough] investigation by the department."
Weekes says his client is an orphan from Central Florida whose parents died several years ago. She reportedly has asthma and is being treated for depression, the Sun-Sentinel reports.
While investigating the case Weekes said he uncovered “disturbing conditions” where female patients are subdued using chemical substances that leave them unconscious for hours, the Miami Herald reports.
“The practice of subduing minor girls with chemical restraints is so common and pervasive that the patients in the facility have dubbed it the ‘booty-juice.’ This mental health facility is simply tying-down and knocking-out little girls who behave in accordance with their mental illness,” Weekes wrote in the letter.
Weekes also describes a relationship he heard about between a male staff member and female patient. "The male staffer was described to be 'dating' a youth receiving treatment at the facility," he wrote. "I was advised that female youth are also housed in living facilities occupied by male patients of the program, and that they share restrooms."
This is one of 16 complaints the Florida Health Care Administration has received about the same facility since March 2008.
The facility plans to launch an internal investigation, and adds that although the allegations are taken seriously, some patients tend to fabricate or sensationalize past events, Josephine Van Hemert, an attorney for Citrus Health, told NBC 6.
Pembroke Pines Captian Al Xiques said officers in the video were responding to a riot, where patients were fighting with each other and the staff.
"The tape looks worse than what it is," Xiques said.