Local politicians react to allegations of abuse at juvenile center

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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — Local politicians are calling for investigations into the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center and people are calling for protests after the Associated Press reported allegations of immigrant teenagers being abused by some staff members.

The allegations came to light this morning in a report authored by several AP writers.

The article details allegations from court filings. The filings include information from six sworn statements from immigrant teenagers. Some of the allegations include claims that teenage boys — who crossed into the United States without any adults and were detained, then moved to the Shenandoah Valley on suspicion of gang involvement — were beaten while handcuffed, tied to chairs with bags over their heads, and locked up for long periods of time in solitary confinement.

Earlier on Thursday, Senator Tim Kaine said that he was troubled by the reports.

"Based on this story, I know Sen. Warner and I are going to be reaching out to the federal officials responsible for this program to demand answers," Kaine said.

Warner added, "We need to see these kids, and we need answers about what's going on at this facility."

Representative Bob Goodlatte echoed Kaine's statement and added that he hoped local, state, and federal entities would take the claims seriously.

Goodlatte released the following public statement:

“The claims made by juveniles held at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center are alarming, and certainly merit a thorough investigation to uncover the truth. I take claims of abuse seriously, and I expect that the relevant local, state, and federal entities will take them seriously as well. Until today’s news report, I was not aware of these complaints. My office has reached out to the facility to learn more about this situation, and I will continue to closely follow the legal proceedings as well as any resulting actions"

Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, announced in a tweet earlier today that he has ordered state officials to look into the allegations.

We reached out to the center and received a statement saying, "The Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center believes the allegations of the Complaint to be without merit and looks forward to the opportunity to present evidence that will allow a jury to reach the same conclusion."

A "group of concerned citizens from Staunton" has sent out a release to local media saying they are organizing a rally at the center at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

“This should not be happening in our community, or indeed anywhere in the United States," said William Walker.

Most of the immigrants held at the center were caught crossing the border illegally on their own. They were then sent to the center because they were believed to be members of violent gangs, like MS-13.

The AP also reported that almost a quarter of the teens the center treats every year are immigrants. The center has been holding immigrant children since at least 2007. In 2015, WHSV reported on a 15-year-old Mexican native who fled the center, telling reporters "I ran because I missed my family."

Staff told WHSV then that it was their very first breach and that they were very proud of their reputation. At that point, an ACLU investigation into the center's treatment of immigrants was already underway.

A hearing has been set for July 3 before a federal judge in the Western District of Virginia.

The center was founded by a coalition of Augusta County, Staunton, Waynesboro, Harrisonburg, Rockingham County, City of Lexington, and Rockbridge County to handle local juveniles charged with serious crimes.