Woman arrested, charged with sexual battery involving Chattanooga shelter for migrant children

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / The old Tennessee Temple Dorm building is seen on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Chattanooga police arrested a 35-year-old woman on suspicion of sexual battery at the Chattanooga shelter housing unaccompanied migrant children.

The Chattanooga Police Department said Wednesday it is charging Randi Duarte with sexual battery by an authority figure, coercion of a witness and tampering with evidence. Duarte is being held in Whitfield County and will be transferred to Hamilton County.

According to a news release, police received a complaint from the facility on May 21 and began investigating alongside the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security.

Nearly two weeks later, on June 3, the Tennessee Department of Children's Services performed an unannounced site visit of the shelter facility in Highland Park. During that visit, an inspector said a child told him he saw a staff member kissing another child.

photo Randi Duarte / Photo contributed by Silverdale Detention Center

Chattanooga police did not say whether the arrest announced Wednesday was related to the June 3 allegation.

According to a report of the state inspection, the child has since left the shelter. The director of the shelter told the state on June 5 the accused employee had been fired.

State officials said the allegation was reported to the state child abuse hotline on June 3, in the afternoon, after the inspection.

When news broke of the allegation, DCS officials said the state and federal investigation into possible child abuse was linked to the June 3 site visit. No mention was made of a May 21 complaint to local authorities.

According to the report of the June 3 inspection, the director of the facility was "advised that all of the youth had made positive comments about their treatment and general conditions within the program, that the files were well organized and complete and that the physical inspection had yielded no findings or need for corrective action."

Police also announced Wednesday a 16-year-old boy who went missing from the facility on June 14 was located safe with his family in Guatemala.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.