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Arrest at Midvale family shelter prompts concerns about children’s safety

The Road Home Midvale Center is seen on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016.
The Midvale Family Resource Center
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

MIDVALE — New safety concerns have surfaced about the Road Home’s family center in Midvale amid a crucial time for Utah’s homeless services as officials prepare to finalize the transition to a new system with three brand-new resource centers.

Both the Midvale mayor and the police chief at Unified Police Department’s Midvale precinct expressed concerns to the Deseret News about whether the Road Home reports allegations of criminal activity within the shelter in a timely manner and if there are ample policies in place to protect children.

While Mayor Robert Hale and Chief Randy Thomas say their concerns about the 300-bed Midvale family shelter have long lingered, those worries reached new heights after a recent incident when a man was arrested and charged with smoking methamphetamine inside a shelter restroom with his young son on his lap.

That arrest initially stemmed from allegations of sex abuse of a child — concerns that weren’t reported to police until the morning after concerns were first raised to Road Home staff, according to police reports obtained by the Deseret News.

Those allegations of sex abuse were later found to be unsubstantiated.

“It absolutely raises my suspicions of when they report, how they report and the timeliness of the reporting,” Thomas said. “That instance in particular ... we are available 24-7, we are able to respond, and they chose to wait.”

The incident raises questions about whether the Midvale Family Resource Center — meant to be a part of a new, more service-focused homeless system with better facilities and safer procedures — is fostering a safe environment for children.

To Thomas, there are “absolutely” gaps or flaws within the Midvale shelter — even after the Road Home last year implemented new policies and procedures in response to a critical state audit that found lax security and widespread drug use within its downtown shelter.

Michelle Flynn — the Road Home’s associate executive director who has taken the place of Matt Minkevitch after he was fired last week following reports of his arrest in a domestic dispute case — declined an interview for this story. But the Road Home issued two prepared statements in response to questions about the methamphetamine arrest, stressing both safety of the clients staying at the shelter and protection of confidential information.

“The Road Home takes all allegations with the utmost importance, as the safety and well-being of our clients is our No. 1 priority,” the statement said. “With respect to the privacy and safety of our guests, we are not able to discuss any details about the individuals we serve.

“The Road Home’s practice is to operate a safe and secure place for all who work or stay in our homeless service centers,” the statement continues. “In order to accomplish that, the Road Home continuously works alongside law enforcement, private security and other supportive services to collaborate on its safety procedures. These processes, including information sharing and incident response, improve its partnership and processes on an ongoing basis.”

But Midvale’s police chief and mayor say their working relationship with the Road Home needs improvement. While Thomas has long requested a list of the Road Home’s clients staying at the family shelter, the shelter has declined, citing privacy and a “system-level decision” among the Road Home and all of Utah’s new resource center service providers against sharing names and birthdates.

The arrest

It was a stroller sitting in a bathroom stall that first caught the eye of a client staying at the Midvale Family Shelter, according to an August police affidavit.

The client, who told an officer he was staying at the shelter with his wife and two children, said he noticed the “suspicious” stroller when he went into the men’s restroom on Aug. 19 shortly after 10 p.m., and again less than an hour later when he went back into the restroom to play a game on his phone.

When he heard a baby cry, the client told an officer he looked outside of his stall, then under the stall, where he saw a man’s pants and underwear laying on top of a man’s shoes. He said he stood on top of the toilet next to the occupied stall where he saw an adult male sitting on a toilet with a “small child sitting on the man’s lap without any clothing below the waist” and was “straddling the adult male skin to skin,” according to the affidavit.

The client told police he yelled at the man, which caused him to “toss the child onto the stroller.” He “aggressively” asked the man what he was doing, and he replied, “He’s my kid and I can do what I want,” according to the affidavit.

The client told police he later confronted the man on the roof while smoking a cigarette, telling him he was “going to fight him for what he did to the child,” according to the report. Later that night, the client said he reported the incident to a staff member at the Road Home.

The next day at 10:30 a.m., Dylan Wayne Postlethwait, 26, was arrested and questioned by police.

An officer wrote in the booking affidavit that Postlethwait’s statement was “inconsistent” and “contradictory,” originally telling police he was in the restroom for 20 minutes, and then later for an hour and a half. He also first told police his 18-month-old son was asleep when he was in the restroom, but later said his son was awake and fussy.

Postlethwait then “disclosed he was smoking methamphetamine inside the restroom with his son” but “denied placing his son on his lap,” according to the affidavit.

A spokesman for the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office said test results from a sexual assault exam conducted at Primary Children’s Hospital were negative. Because of that and problems with witness accounts, no sexual assault charge was filed.

Postlethwait was charged with exposing a child to drugs, a third-degree felony. His next court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 25.

After he was charged in that case, he was arrested again on Nov. 6 and charged in Salt Lake Justice Court with possession of drug paraphernalia, driving on a suspended license and two counts of expired vehicles registration.

Postlethwait remained in the Salt Lake County Jail as of Tuesday.

‘Deficient to say the least’

Postlethwait’s arrest is the latest example of concerns that have long troubled Midvale officials.

The Midvale mayor and police chief say the arrest raises “red flags” about the Road Home’s family shelter, whether allegations of serious crimes there are reported in a timely manner, and concerns about children being exposed to drugs within the shelter walls.

“They waited until the next morning to report it to us,” Thomas said. “That definitely was a red flag.”

Hale said people staying in the Midvale Family Resource Center — especially children — should be protected from being exposed to drugs or any possible sexual abuse.

“They are our citizens,” he said. “Citizens are not to be treated like that ... either from a parent or a stranger or an acquaintance or a neighbor, I don’t care. Citizens must be protected from that kind of just awful treatment.”

Hale said Thomas has “asked for more information on the adults that are accepted into the family shelter,” but the Road Home “hasn’t been forthcoming.”

“When we are made aware of situations like what happened in August, it just raises their anxiety and anger that more controls are not in place at the Road Home,” the mayor said.

Thomas said he has long tried to improve police partnerships with the Road Home, requesting a list of names and birthdates of people staying at the shelter, but the Road Home has refused, arguing for privacy of their clients.

“They deal with a lot of mental health issues, with a lot of substance abuse issues — their intent isn’t always to fix it by arresting,” Thomas noted. “They do want to keep folks off these streets. But at the same time, especially when it comes to the safety of the children in that center, that’s No. 1 in my view.”

Thomas said the Road Home’s staff decision “not to wake up administration and get authorization” to inform police was “deficient to say the least.”

While the man wasn’t charged with sex abuse, Thomas said the initial allegations against him and his subsequent second arrest fuel longstanding concerns about how the Road Home ensures children staying at the family shelter aren’t housed with criminals — and how they ensure that sex offenders aren’t allowed in the shelter.

Thomas said Road Home officials have told him they use the state sex offender registry to check client names, but police have no way to verify that.

“They do not provide us with the names of people staying in the shelter in there, so we would not even have the opportunity to check,” Thomas said. “That’s the transition I wish to have happen.”

Before the August incident, Thomas said he’s been concerned about the Road Home housing possible sex offenders with children. He said Road Home staff have confirmed to him they have housed registered sex offenders in the past, but he didn’t have specific cases, times or dates.

Since the August arrest, Thomas said he has explicitly asked the Road Home staff if they have housed any sex offenders in the Midvale shelter, and they reported “zero,” he said.

“But I can only take their word for it because they don’t provide me a list.”

Thomas said a list of names and birthdates would allow police to check backgrounds — to not only flag registered sex offenders, but also those with violent criminal backgrounds or domestic violence issues.

“If someone has been identified and flagged, we need to work on it together,” Thomas said. “That’s my offer to them.”

According to Utah law, registered sex offenders are required to register with the state twice each year — once during her or her birth month, and once six months later. Offenders are also required to “register within three business days of every change of primary residence, any secondary residence, place of employment, vehicle information, or educational information.”

Thomas acknowledged Utah law would prevent background checks on all shelter guests without permission, which is why he said he may be looking for a legislative “carve out” in the upcoming session to enable police to check adults staying at the family shelter.

“This being a family shelter, there’s a higher level of expectation for safety of children that are there,” Thomas said. “What I really want to do is identify if we have a predator in sight, really more for children, not to catch warrants for arrest, but in essence to identify someone who may be a danger to children.”

The Road Home has only “offered that they will let me know if they run across anything,” Thomas said.

“That being said, trust is earned, not given.”

Road Home response

In a prepared statement issued in response to a list of questions from the Deseret News, Road Home officials noted both the shelter and Unified police are part of the Public Safety Transition Task Group and the Legal Rights and Safety Core Function group of the Salt Lake Valley Coalition to End Homelessness.

“We have brought this issue to those committees for discussion and recommendations,” the statement says. “To our knowledge, there is nothing that the police department can legally do with guests’ names or dates of birth, which creates the sharing of this information an unhelpful task.”

Road Home staff speaks “daily” with onsite Unified officers. Unified’s Midvale precinct has six officers who man the Midvale family shelter on a rotational basis, for 12 hours during peak times of the day, but not 24/7. However, the Road Home does have one private security officer at the shelter around the clock.

“We review all incidents and work in continuous improvements to adjust procedures to improve safety in the Midvale Family Resource Center,” the statement says.

The Road Home did not specifically answer questions about how the man was able to allegedly bring meth inside the family shelter or why it took until the next day to report the incident to Midvale police. Rather, the Road Home listed its policies and procedures, noting it does not allow illegal drugs into the facility.

“If drugs are found, we contact UPD officers to appropriately handle the incident,” the Road Home statement said.

Thomas said officers also bring drug-sniffing dogs into the family shelter to conduct random searches. Despite their efforts, sometimes small amounts can still be brought into the shelter.

“Very small amounts are easy to smuggle within,” Thomas said.

Shelter clients are required to pass through a metal detector and a bag search process to enter the facility, which is overseen by private security.

All adults entering the shelter are screened against the sex offender registry, according to the Road Home.

“If a name were to appear, the Road Home’s procedure is to review this with Unified police to determine the best way to assist the family and children with a place to stay,” the statement said.

The Road Home also completes a report each time an incident happens in the centers. Private security officers also complete two shift reports in their own database each day, and those reports are emailed to the Road Home and the facilities’ owner, Shelter the Homeless. Regular weekly meetings are also held in Midvale with Shelter the Homeless, the Road Home, private security and Unified police, meant to “discuss any issues, changes needed in procedures, share new information and discuss guests.”

The Road Home also has cameras throughout the facility and uses them to investigate criminal allegations as needed, with footage provided to law enforcement upon request, according to the Road Home. Additionally, staff consults with police on “all incidents of violence, including follow-up and results.”

Shelter the Homeless, which contracts with the Road Home to operate the Midvale facility, issued a statement listing the safety procedures and noting safety and security meetings to discuss “any necessary procedural changes to improve the overall safety and security in and around” the Midvale shelter.

While the Road Home announced new safety policies and procedures after the state’s critical audit last year, a follow-up state audit found the Road Home was slow to follow its new drug screening and safety policies in the downtown Salt Lake shelter.

The state now owns the downtown property, and conducts internal audits as the Road Home’s landlord, but doesn’t conduct internal audits of the Midvale center because it’s owned by Shelter the Homeless.

When asked about the arrest, Nate McDonald, a spokesman for the Department of Workforce Services, an agency that provides funding to support homeless services, said in a prepared statement that the department works “with service providers to ensure they’re meeting the requirements laid out in those contracts.”

“Safety and security are top priorities for the state and providers, and staff at the Road Home and other service providers participate in extensive and ongoing training in order to create a safe place to serve a challenging, high-needs population,” McDonald said, noting the Road Home’s new policies and procedures implemented over the past year to improve safety and security.

“The state will continue to work with the Road Home and other operators to provide a safe place for people in difficult and vulnerable situations to receive vital services,” he said.

Contributing: Pat Reavy