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Lawsuit against Griffith Centers claims female staff member sexually abused minors

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) - Two men filed a federal lawsuit earlier this year claiming they were sexually abused as minors while at the Griffith Centers for Children and the non-profit organization failed to intervene.

The lawsuit, filed in April 2023, claimed a former female employee, from 2019 through 2020, gave boys at the Griffith Centers for Children in Colorado Springs drugs and alcohol to build trust then sexually assaulted them.

“(She) used this trust to lure the victims into sexual relationships, imposing herself onto them and seeking sexual favors. (Her) grooming was wildly successful: each of her victims trusted her and did whatever she wanted.”

The lawsuit claims the employee sent multiple boys explicit pictures and videos, inappropriately touched them, and had sex with them. Their attorney said that for someone in a position of power to do this to a minor is considered sexual assault.

“This is not sex, it's sexual assault,” said Azra Taslimi, the attorney representing the boys who filed the federal lawsuit. “It's not any different than it would be if the tables were turned if you had a male perpetrator on female children.”

The Griffith Centers said in a statement there is no merit to these allegations and the organization looks “forward to defending ourselves vigorously in court.”

According to its website, the Griffith Centers for Children provides “mental and behavioral health services” to troubled youth. Deanna Cantwell, a former behavioral therapist, said she joined the organization to help rehabilitate kids.

It’s why she said she reported the alleged abuse when a child told her what was happening. But she said she was dismissed because she said her supervisors and the Human Resources Department didn’t believe her or the kids.

“It doesn't matter what these kids say if they've been convicted of a crime and they're here, they don't matter,” she said.

After going to HR every week for months, Cantwell was fired.

“I was told I had ruffled too many feathers,” she said. “Those were their exact words — I'd ruffled too many feathers and they couldn't protect me any longer.”

The Griffith Centers said Cantwell was “dismissed for cause” unrelated to the allegations. The non-profit said it reported the allegations immediately and placed the former employee on administrative leave. According to the Griffith Centers, three agencies investigated the claims — the Colorado Department of Health and Human Services, the El Paso County Child Protective Services, and the Colorado Springs Police Department.

The Griffith Centers said one of the plaintiffs from the lawsuit denied the alleged incidents when he was interviewed by authorities and other clients reported the plaintiff had threatened to make false allegations against staff. KRDO13 Investigates reached out to the Colorado Springs Police Department about their investigation but we are waiting for a response.

Cantwell believes there are more victims. She said the kid that told her about the allegations in 2019 before the sexual interactions with the other boys who filed the lawsuit.

“This is supposed to be a place that rehabilitates them, that teaches them better ways, to hold themselves accountable and others. But (the Griffith Centers) aren't doing that themselves,” Cantwell said. “They were just basically discarding them like garbage.”

Taslimi said information from former employees points to a larger issue of staff members at Griffith Centers using their position of power to take advantage of troubled youth.

“There's absolutely a concern that this is systemic and there is a concern that GCC isn't doing enough to address this systemic issue,” she said.

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Quinn Ritzdorf

Quinn is a reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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