PHOENIX — The Arizona Department of Child Safety is slowly releasing its records about prior incidents and investigations into a Phoenix group home that is now at the center of a murder investigation.
On September 1, a teenage resident was shot and killed at the North Star Independent Living Facility near 19th Avenue and Mountain View Road. Police said another teen resident was the shooter.
That shooting, the 12News I-Team uncovered, happened just days after the Phoenix police department seized a cache of weapons from the group home.
That was not the first time group home employees reported guns or bullets in the home.
On Thursday, the state legislature held an emergency meeting for the DCS oversight committee to question DCS director Mike Faust about the shooting and prior problems at the group home.
“I could have walked in and said shut them down, but does that help the kids?” Faust said.
Faust told the committee many of the problems the complex faces were systemic. There's a subsection of kids with escalating criminal records that Faust said DCS was not designed to handle.
“If a parent can't control their youth’s violent behavior, is there an expectation DCS can?”
However, committee members seemed skeptical about the long-term viability of the North Star facility.
Faust told the committee that there had been a large number of “unusual incident reports” he called UIRs at the North Star group homes and called the company an “outlier.”
When asked exactly how many unusual incident reports DCS received, Faust told the committee, “it’s not measured in tens. There are hundreds.”
A few hours after the committee hearing, DCS began releasing records subject to a 12News records request, including documents related to just seven DCS investigations at North Star facilities.
A DCS spokesperson told 12News this is just the first batch of records, and more would soon be available.
The cases provided included allegations of “vermin” and “roaches” in the homes, as well as staff behaving “inappropriately” and opening or copying residents’ mail without permission.
In April 2022, one report shows an “AR-15 may have been brought” to the facility on Mountain View Road.
“We’re not allowed to have guns on properties,” Director Faust told the state legislative committee. “Licensing rule says ‘Thou Shalt Not.”
DCS sent North Star a “letter of concern” directing the facility to make some changes within 60 days. These included “removing anything from the front office window that will obscure (staff’s) view” and putting staff at the front gate to have youth check-in before going to rooms.
It’s unclear if any of those changes occurred by the shooting in September – and there was apparently no recourse if changes did not occur.
“This serves as notification only; no follow-up is necessary regarding this letter,” the DCS employee wrote.
In the seven records DCS provided on Thursday, three resulted in an “action,” including the incident involving the AR-15.
In January 2020, DCS directed North Star to take “immediate action” to correct a roach infestation or risk that DCS may “deny, suspend, or revoke” its license.
In February 2020, DCS then sent a letter of violation when staff found that multiple North Star employees did not have proper records on file, including proof of one employee’s diploma and another’s proof of current physical exam.
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