PHOENIX — When the Arizona Department of Child Safety would routinely call looking for emergency placement of a teen or young adult male who struggled with addiction, those calls would often be directed to North Star Independent Living Services.
And the employee who fielded those calls spoke out anonymously to 12News after recent violence at the facility.
"There's a lot of pressure coming from DCS to place some of these kids," he said.
He said he was often faced with a moral dilemma. He said he knew many of the residents in the North Star group home on Mountain View Road were openly using drugs in their rooms. He and other employees saw it for themselves. He didn't feel comfortable placing a teen with a known addiction struggle in that environment.
That particular facility on Mountain View Road houses up to 46 males age 16 to 20, and he said oftentimes, there was only one staff member on-site.
They couldn't enforce rules and security was limited.
“That would be on my mind heavy if we have to take on a kid who's coming right out of rehab. And then you have an apartment where you know someone's abusing, smoking Percocet or something like that," the former employee explained. "I mean, realistically, if someone's smoking Percocet in front of someone who was just addicted to Percocet or just got out of rehab, what do you think's gonna happen?”
It got to a point where the employee said he couldn't do it anymore, and after more than two years, he quit North Star.
“I've never been somewhere else where there's unlocked gates and doors everywhere. Anybody can just walk on site. I haven't been anywhere else like that," the former employee said.
But he felt compelled to speak out to 12News in light of the violence that took place at the group home on Sept. 1.
“There's a lot of kids there with not a lot of oversight," he said.
Early in the morning, a North Star resident managed to bring a gun at the facility and shot and killed 18-year-old T'revonsay Sales, according to Phoenix police. The incident is still under investigation.
This wasn't the first time a North Star resident has been shot there.
Last year, Phoenix police confirmed two males were shot. The former employee said no changes were made following that shooting.
“I do not believe that it's possible under the current ownership for it to be any better. I think if they would have shown that after the first shooting, that they wanted things to change. And they didn't," he said.
"There's a lot of firearms there, and there's not a lot of security."
According to police data, there have been more than a thousand calls for service at the block where the facility is located since 2017 alone.
Multiple former employees told 12News that guns and drugs were routinely found on site.
A North Star spokesperson declined requests for an on-camera interview but provided 12News with the following statement:
"We have a zero-tolerance policy for drugs and other contraband. North Star strictly follows State policies and rules in our efforts to enforce those rules upon our residents. We do confiscate any contraband we see in the open or find during a room inspection.
If a resident breaks the rules, our recourse is to report the incident to the case manager at AZ DCS (the document is called a UIR). In the UIR we may suggest that the individual needs additional services, or to suggest that the individual be moved to a different facility to receive the care they need. We cannot discipline, discharge or remove a child from the site without instruction from the case manager. While we can request a resident be moved to a different location, if approved (and it not always is), it generally is a 30-day process unless expedited by the case manager. During that time, they remain at our location."
“That's not true at all," the former employee said in response to the zero-tolerance policy. "There's a lot of firearms there, and there's not a lot of security. So it's not a good situation.”
This former employee and others who 12News have spoken to are concerned for the other residents that if nothing changes, somebody else is going to get hurt.
“These youth have been moved from unsafe situations or negligent situations, and then they're placed into that situation. It should not be like that. And I feel like everyone has to agree with that," he said.
"That's the whole purpose of this child welfare system, so when you see this happening, it's failing, right in front of us.”
DCS has declined 12News' request for an on-camera interview. A spokesperson released a statement following the 18-year-old's death:
"We are saddened by the shooting of a young adult this morning at a group home facility. We are partnering with law enforcement on the investigation. The safety of the youth and children in our care is our top priority.
Immediately after we were notified this morning, we began providing additional services to ensure the other youth at the facility were safe. Crisis support is available to the youth and staff at the facility.
This apartment-style independent living facility is DCS-licensed for 46 beds and is operated by North Star Independent Living Services, which has been licensed since 2015. Youth age 16-20 years old reside at the facility. North Star operates seven group homes.
As with any facility that provides care for older at-risk youth, police involvement can occur. DCS has partnered with the provider and the Phoenix Police Department in the past to proactively and positively mitigate risks at this facility."
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