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Suspected Victims of Child Abuse Shackled, Jailed, and Treated like Criminals, ACLU Charges in Federal Lawsuit


August 8, 2001

In a lawsuit filed in federal court today, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado (ACLU) alleged that contractors providing services to the Colorado Division of Youth Corrections mistreated two young suspected victims of child abuse who were unjustly imprisoned last year for seven days, denied visits and the right to telephone family members, and were paraded through the Denver airport and other public places on multiple occasions while shackled with leg chains and handcuffs that were sometimes so tight they caused physical injury.


"These young children, who were 15 and 12 at the time, were held in temporary protective custody because they were suspected victims of child abuse that reportedly occurred eight years earlier," said Rich Gabriel, of Holme Roberts and Owen, who filed the case as an ACLU cooperating attorney. "Instead of providing the protection the law requires, these state contractors treated these innocent children like common criminals, even though they had done nothing wrong and had never even been accused of doing anything wrong."


The children, who had lived in Oregon in the early 1990s, had been living in Denver with their parents and grandparents, who are long-time Denver residents. According to the complaint, Denver police arrived at the family home in the early morning hours of August 8, 2000. They woke the children from their beds, took them into custody, and arrested the children's parents on an eight-year-old Oregon warrant that charged them with child molesting, a charge that has since been dropped.


"Police apparently took the kids into custody at the request of Oregon authorities," Gabriel explained. "An Oregon judge had ordered that the children be brought back to Oregon, where they were subject to the protective custody of the Oregon juvenile courts and social service agencies. An Oregon social worker was assigned to fly to Denver to pick up the children and escort them back to Oregon."

During the week that the children waited for the social worker, the complaint states, the children were improperly placed in high-security juvenile detention facilities. They were initially forbidden to make telephone calls to their grandparents, and family members were prohibited from visiting.


"Our system of youth services and social services is supposed to protect vulnerable children," Gabriel said. "But it totally failed in this case. There was no reason to place these kids in a secure facility instead of a foster home or with their grandparents. There was no reason to deny them telephone calls or visits from concerned members of their family. And there was certainly no legitimate reason for handcuffs and leg shackles. These kids were suspected victims, not accused criminals."


In the process of formalizing their transfer to Oregon's social services department, the children appeared several times before a juvenile court judge. Each time, the complaint states, the Defendants restrained them with handcuffs, leg shackles, and chains.


According to the complaint, the children were similarly chained and shackled when they were taken to meet the Oregon social worker at Denver International Airport, who was to take them to Oregon. The shackles were so tight that one of the children was forced to hop instead of walk, thus drawing further attention to himself.

"There was no legitimate reason to force these young children to endure the long and painful trek through the parking lot and the airport terminal with their hands and feet chained together as though they were dangerous criminals," said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. "Our clients, who were never accused of doing anything wrong, were needlessly terrified, humiliated, and embarrassed as they hopped and hobbled past the fearful wary stares of passengers and airport personnel."


According to the complaint, one DIA official initially refused to permit the children to pass through a general entrance on the ground that they were "criminals." The ACLU's clients were further embarrassed and humiliated when several DIA passengers turned around and refused to board the train that was transporting the shackled children to the DIA terminal.


"When the Oregon social worker met the children, she immediately demanded that the handcuffs and shackles be removed," Silverstein said. "She is the one who contacted the ACLU and asked us to investigate. Now that the legal situation of the family has been resolved and the children are back in Denver with their mother and grandparents, we are asking the court to vindicate the children's rights. What happened to these innocent kids should never be permitted to happen again."


Defendants include the companies that operate the Fillmore Youth Detention Center and the Dahlia Street Youth Detention Center, where the children were locked up, as well as Correctional Connections, which transported the children in leg shackles and handcuffs. The lawsuit, Lamas v. Correctional Connections, Inc. was filed in federal court in Denver and assigned to Judge Daniels.

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