An inpatient psychiatric treatment center for minors in Pembroke Pines is accused by the Broward Public Defender’s Office of abusing patients with physical restraints and injected drugs.
Broward Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon H. Weekes Jr. asked Esther Jacobo, interim secretary of Florida’s Department of Children and Families, in a letter Thursday to investigate the Citrus Center of Adolescent Treatment Service after one of the girls was arrested and became Weekes’ client.
The facility houses female patients, ages 14 to 17, who have emotional, behavioral and psychological issues, Weekes said. They are not criminal offenders, and some are victims of emotional or physical abuse or are wards of the state, according to Weekes.
He accused Citrus Center of not managing patients well and said there are frequent fights.
“This mental health facility is simply tying down and knocking out [with medication] little girls who behave in accordance with their mental illness,” Weekes wrote.
A call seeking comment from the Citrus Center was not returned.
Patients call the injections “booty-juice,” because of where they receive the shots, Weekes said.
He claimed in his letter, “it is believed several girls intentionally engage in misbehavior” in order to get the medication that gets them high.
His client was charged in April with resisting arrest with violence, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief at the facility at 8400 S. Palm Drive. She was punched and pepper sprayed by Pembroke Pines police officers during the incident that was captured on video, Weekes said.
“The cop hauled back to Minnesota and hit her in the face,” Weekes said. He said his client is a 14-year-old orphan from Central Florida who is an asthmatic and depressed over the deaths of her parents, which happened several years ago.
Because she is a juvenile, he is not identifying the teen.
DCF said it received both a letter and call to its hotline Thursday alleging abuse at the Citrus Center.
“The department will be working with the Broward Sheriff’s Office and the Agency for Health Care Administration to get to the bottom of these allegations,” DCF spokesman Whitney Ray said.
The Agency for Health Care Administration said it is reviewing the allegations.
Pembroke Pines Police Capt. Al Xiques did not dispute that Weekes’ client was pepper-sprayed and struck by police officers. Officers from that agency and Miramar responded to fighting among seven girls at the center the night of April 28, he said.
“He puts his hand on the arm of the defendant as she’s being escorted,” Xiques said. “At which time she punches the officer twice, he tries to defend himself and does strike the defendant. Given the situation and circumstances, the video doesn’t capture the entire scenario. Several individuals were fighting and beating up the staff. The video captures the arrest of one person.”
The girl later apologized to the arresting officer, and told him that she wanted to go to jail to get out of the Center, Xiques said.
“The officer’s actions were consistent with what he wrote in the police report, and the officer himself put the video into evidence,” Xiques said. “After reviewing the video and the officer’s report, we don’t see any inconsistencies with our policies.”
Xiques said the agency was “very concerned” to “learn for the first time” about Weekes’ allegations and said it will also investigate with DCF.
Weekes said he is not a medical expert, but said his client has been physically or chemically restrained six to 10 times in the past three months, which he said seemed excessive in response to disrespectful conduct.
“This child needs to be in a family-type setting to bond and be nurtured by a family while she goes through the grieving process,” Weekes said. The girl had previously been in a facility in Orlando, Weekes said, but broke a window there and was transferred to Citrus Center in April.
He said he felt it was necessary to bring his complaints to the attention of state officials “who will hopefully prohibit this type of action in the future.”