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EXCLUSIVE: "Riot" Brought Police To Center For Troubled Teens

PEMBROKE PINES (CBSMiami) - Pembroke Pines police were called to a "riot" at the Citrus Center for Adolescent Treatment Services in April, an episode that included an officer slugging a 14 year-old mentally disturbed patient in the face.

As the teen was being walked down a hall of the facility, the officer grabbed her by the arm and she whirled around, striking out at him. The encounter was captured on a security camera.

In his report of the incident, reviewed by CBS4 News, the officer wrote that when he arrived at the center the girl he eventually punched was "actively hitting, resisting a hospital staff member" and "yelling loudly, cursing, agitating people (to fight the police)."

The cop said that when he took the girl's arm she lashed out at him and he struck back.  He wrote that he delivered at least four "hand strikes to (the girl's) face in order to defend" himself.

The police department defended its officer Friday.

"This young lady unfortunately decided to strike the officer twice, and the officer reacted to that and took appropriate action," Captain Al Xiques told CBS4's Gary Nelson.

Critics counter nothing justifies a bruising cop slugging a troubled girl.

"When an officer uses that kind of force against a mentally ill child, there is no other conclusion than that officer is using excessive force," said Chief Assistant Broward Public Defender Gordon Weekes, Jr.

The punch played 'round the world aside; there were the troubling 911 calls that brought police to the facility for children with severe emotional and mental problems.

"The third caller said that it was a riot, that there were forty people fighting," Captain Xiques quoted one 911 caller as saying.

The impression police had was that the patients had taken over the asylum. Pembroke Pines police called officers from Miramar to assist them with what appeared to be an "out of control" situation.

A spokesperson for the company said in a statement Friday that its staff was able to handle the problem and called police as a precaution.

""Staffing at the Citrus Center for Adolescent Treatment Services is always maintained at or above licensing requirement levels," said the statement from Leslie Veiga, a communications specialist for Citrus.

The company's claim is not supported by documents obtained by CBS4 News.

Inspection reports from the Agency For Health Care Administration reveal Citrus has been cited for, among other things:

- Failure to maintain adequate staff levels.

- Failure to maintain CPR training for staff.

- Failure to assure patient privacy.

- Failure to keep necessary medications on hand for patients.

In interviews with clients behind the center's walls, the public defender's office uncovered more disturbing allegations: Patients being tied hand and foot to their beds, injected with drugs to knock them out, and inappropriate contact between girls and boys.

"Female children are housed in the boy's facility and are sharing a common bathroom with boys," said Weekes.

CBS4 News has learned the company fired a staff member this year amid allegations she carried on an inappropriate relationship with a teen client.  The company confirmed the staff member's dismissal.  The Broward Sheriff's Office continues to investigate that matter.  No charges have been brought as yet.

Since the various allegations were brought against the Citrus facility Thursday, the BSO, Agency for Health Care Administration and Department of Children and Families have opened a joint investigation.

"The Department will be get to the bottom of these allegations," said DCF spokesperson Paige Patterson-Hughes.

Citrus Health said in a statement Thursday the company welcomes and will cooperate in any investigation.

(CBS4 News Apprentice Lauren Rigau contributed to this report).

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