PCSO: More 911 calls coming from Sycamore Canyon Academy

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

ORACLE, Ariz. -- The Pinal County Sheriff's Office says it is seeing a spike in 911 calls from a treatment facility that serves troubled teen boys.

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu attributes the increase in calls from Sycamore Canyon Academy to the recent placement of several unaccompanied minors from Central America there.

According to PCSO, there were eight calls from Sycamore Canyon between Aug. 1 and Oct. 10, 2013. Half of them were hang-ups and two were reporting runaways. Although there was one call each for threatening and disturbing the peace, there were no calls for any violent incidents.

A number provided by PSCO shows 13 calls during the same time timeframe this year, nearly half of them involving some kind of violence. Five calls involved assaults on students and staff and one reported criminal damage.

"Clearly there's an uptick in violent acts," Babeu said.

The most recent call was Wednesday, Oct. 8.

PSCO says a 13-year-old from Colombia used a tube sock filled with three bars of soap to attack a 74-year-old Sycamore Canyon staff member who had been called by another boy.

Babeu said the teen swung the soap-filled sock "almost like a bat" and hit the man in the head.

Other staff members restrained the teen and called 911.

The teen who originally called the staff member to request an inhaler denied any involvement in the attack. He and other juveniles that detectives interviewed said there was no plan to attack the staffer, according to PCSO.

Deputies took the teen, who has since turned 14, into custody, but said he refused to answer questions without a lawyer.

Babeu said the teen was one of as many as 50 juveniles from Central America sent to the facility. He was placed there in July.

"These were the ones that came from Texas, were then flown here and bused down to this academy," he said. "This is a population that we haven't been able to assess."

Babeu said his office has requested information about the boys sent to Sycamore Canyon Academy, but was denied.

"Law enforcement was never provided with the profiles or criminal histories of the unaccompanied juveniles coming from Central America and being placed into our communities," he said in a statement.

He also said he believes that "a reasonable person" would see a connection between the recent 911 calls his department has received and the transfer of the Central Americans teens to Sycamore Canyon Academy.

Babeu said numerous Oracle residents have contacted his office to express their concerns about what's happening at Sycamore Canyon. Babeu has been outspoken in his disapproval of the government's handling of the thousands of unaccompanied minors who are in the U.S. illegally.

"I've said from the very beginning ... the most humane response from our country and the federal government is to have these juveniles from Central America put on a plane and sent back to their country of origin and reunited with their families," he explained.

The teen involved in the Oct. 8 incident was booked into the Pinal County Juvenile Detention Center on charges of aggravated assault.

Sycamore Canyon Academy opened in 2007 and is part of Rite of Passage, a national organization that provides programs and opportunities for troubled and at-risk kids. According to its website, the academy features a six-month program built around "cognitive behavioral therapy as our therapeutic approach to changing troubled behavior."

Oracle is a small mountain town about 30 miles north of Tucson. The 2010 census put Oracle's population at a little more than 3,600.