An Albuquerque police officer entered Omaree Varela’s home on Christmas Eve 2012 to find presents under the Christmas tree and the boy’s siblings decorating a gingerbread house.
Officer Jeff Jones was there to question Varela’s mother about allegations that she punched her son, then age 8, while inside a Cricket wireless store. Synthia Varela-Casaus could be seen on lapel camera video, which APD released Thursday, firmly denying that she ever abused her son.
In fact, the boy had been meeting with a state Children, Youth and Families Department caseworker at least once a week, the mother said, and she was doing everything she could to provide for him and help him through behavioral problems.
“You have everything here that you need, right?” Varela-Casaus said to the boy while they stood in their kitchen, talking to the officer. Omaree could be heard softly agreeing with his mother.
Almost a year later, the boy was found dead, and his mother admitted kicking him to death, according to APD. Investigators later found previous signs of abuse on the boy’s body, including cigarette burns and teeth marks.
CYFD declined to comment on whether the boy was meeting regularly with a caseworker to discuss his home life or to question him about abuse, citing the state Children’s Code. However, CYFD spokesman Henry Varela did say that generally CYFD uses outside providers to give a variety of services to families in need, and that the department is typically not given specific information about how often or where these types of meetings happen.
CYFD does check in with its providers regularly on individual cases, Varela said, but only to see how well families are “engaging” with these voluntary caseworker contacts.
The December 2012 call was the third time law enforcement had questioned Omaree’s mother about alleged verbal and physical abuse, and CYFD has so far cited the Children’s Code in declining to detail much of the agency’s interactions with the boy and his family.
The lapel camera video released Thursday also showed Jones, who is now a detective, interviewing witnesses at the Cricket store before tracking down Varela-Casaus and her son at their home on Comanche.
Jones was apparently not alerted to two previous APD contacts regarding allegations of abuse with the boy and his mother. APD spokeswoman Tasia Martinez said the officer could not have known about the previous allegations because he was called to the Cricket store, not the Varela-Casaus home on Comanche, and neither the boy’s nor his mother’s name was provided in the initial call.
Martinez later declined to say whether APD officers are able to enter that information when they get it later on in a call to determine if APD has taken any earlier, similar calls that match a suspect or victim’s name or address.