Mississippi welfare officials have asked a judge to throw out a lawsuit alleging eight girls were abused at Columbia Training School in May.
In court documents filed this week by the Mississippi Department of Human Services, the state argues the girls, who allege they were shackled for 12 hours a day, have no basis to ask for a financial payment. One girl also alleges she was sexually abused.
"It's so unfortunate that the state's going to use its resources to defend the indefensible instead of using its resources to resolve this matter in the best interest of the children," said the girls' attorney, Sheila Bedi of the Mississippi Protection and Advocacy System.
Bedi states in court documents the state should have provided mental health treatment to the girls, some of whom were suicidal while in custody.
Assistant Attorney General Shawn Shurden argues in court documents that legal mandates to provide mental health or rehabilitative treatments applies only to the mentally ill, not teens. He does not address whether the treatment would be mandatory for teens if they were suicidal and might have been mentally ill.
Since several of the teens have been released or soon will be released from the campus, their claims are moot, Shurden said.
The school houses teenage girls who committed crimes, including drug possession and assault. They typically stay six weeks to a few months, depending on the sentence.
After allegations surfaced that girls were shackled for longer than a week, the investigation widened when state representatives learned male guards asked one girl for sexual favors and guards gave the teens cigarettes.
DHS executive director Don Taylor said Wednesday that his agency's investigation is ongoing. One employee has been fired and five have been suspended with pay.
In 2006, the state agreed to end a lawsuit federal officials filed two years earlier over allegations of abuse. A federal monitor visits both Columbia and Oakley Training School for boys and recommends improvements.
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