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Judge closes hearing to public as shelter appeals suspension

July 8, 2021 GMT

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee administrative law judge denied public access to an informal hearing regarding the license suspension of a shelter for immigrant children after one of the employees was arrested following abuse allegations.

The Times Free Press reports that Judge Phillip R. Hilliard’s handed down his decision on Wednesday over objections from attorneys representing Baptiste Group. The shelter argues that the proceedings should be open to the public and news organizations.

“On behalf of Baptiste, we are against closure of this proceeding on several grounds,” said Mark Baugh, who stressed that the proceedings would not reveal the names of the children who had been housed in the now-shuttered facility in Chattanooga.

However, Hilliard determined that the state had an obligation to ensure certain records remained private, which he said “outweighs any right or need for the proceeding to be made open at this point.”

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Hilliard added that “some documents” could become public once the hearing is complete.

Earlier this month, the Department of Children’s Services suspended the nonprofit’s license following allegations that child abuse had occurred and a teenage boy had run away from the facility.

The suspension came just hours after Chattanooga police announced that a staff member at the facility had been arrested and faced criminal charges.

Baptiste Group has been operating as a shelter since last year after receiving a conditional license by the department. The shelter has a federal contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement to temporarily house unaccompanied migrant minors.