Feds investigate pepper spray use at 2 Nevada youth centers
LAS VEGAS — Federal authorities are investigating whether pepper spray has been used illegally against children housed at two of Nevada’s most secure youth facilities.
The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday that it opened a probe of the use of “chemical restraint” at Summit View Youth Center outside Las Vegas and the Nevada Youth Training Center near Elko.
Both facilities are run by the state Division of Child and Family Services.
“The investigation will examine whether staff at the two facilities use pepper spray in a manner that violates youth’s rights under the Constitution,” the department said in a statement.
It said no conclusions had been reached about unspecified “allegations in this matter.”
A spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services and its Division of Child and Family Services did not immediately respond to email and telephone messages.
A 2006 report to the Legislature by the Institute for Children’s Research and Policy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the Nevada Youth Training Center housed a daily average of almost 150 children ages 12 to 18 at its 500-acre facility.
The Division of Child and Family Services reports that the center is funded for 60 young people.
Summit View is a maximum-security facility with 48 beds on a 13-acre campus in North Las Vegas, not far from Nellis Air Force Base.
The use of pepper spray was allowed only to prevent physical harm to a person, damage to a building or an attempt to escape, the Institute for Children’s Research and Policy report said.
A 2001 Justice Department investigation found “prevalent” excessive use of force by Nevada Youth Training Center staff, an inadequate grievance system and improper use of seclusion and “time out” discipline, among other shortcomings. The report did not address the use of pepper spray.
“Frequently, incident reports and other NYTC documentation fail to justify why staff used force and why other non-physical interventions were not implemented,” investigators said.
The Justice Department said it was accepting “relevant information” about the new probe by email at Community.NVJuveniles@usdoj.gov.