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Youth ranch settles lawsuit with CYFD

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Tierra Blanca Ranch, where troubled teenage boys were allegedly beaten and shackled, has settled an October lawsuit with the Children, Youth and Families Department, allowing the state to have oversight of the ranch and its residents for a year, according to the agreement.

Allegations of abuse at the ranch near Truth or Consequences surfaced in 2006, but State Police began the most recent investigation after a resident died in a September 2013 car crash.

Ranch owner Scott Chandler sued CYFD in October, the day before the department raided the ranch looking for nine minors who were at the ranch. When CYFD didn’t find the boys, it issued an Amber Alert for them. The children were accounted for, found with their families a few days later.

Chandler has denied allegations of abuse in the program and said the state’s investigation was unwarranted.

The ranch provides a residential treatment and education program for youths at risk. Since last fall, clients and parents have come forward both supporting and criticizing the ranch – some claiming harsh mistreatment and others crediting the ranch with turning young lives around.

The settlement stipulates that the ranch discontinue its use of mechanical restraints such as shackles, and allow CYFD access to client records and file reports every time an allegation of abuse surfaces, among other things.

The ranch owners contend that they originally wanted to use “safe rooms” instead of mechanical restraints, but were instructed – the letter doesn’t say by whom – to use mechanical restraints instead. They say they are now returning to their originally methodology.

“By way of example, the TBR Youth Program agreed to not employ mechanical restraints in those rare instances during which the safety of a youth, staff, or others are at risk,” reads a statement from the ranch. “With this settlement, we come full circle and are returned to our initial position. It is very unfortunate such a simple agreement arrived at great cost to our program and an already battered agency.”

In return, CYFD has agreed to discontinue its investigation into the ranch, which began last fall.

CYFD spokesman Henry Varela said the department is pleased with the agreement.

“This settlement is very good news for CYFD,” Varela said. “It gives CYFD the ability to go and ensure that the youth there are safe and gives it some oversight.”

But the settlement lasts for only a year and Varela said the department hopes to make the stipulations permanent during the 2015 legislative session.

“Hopefully, it will be put into law,” he said. “It’s important and unfortunately it wasn’t done this session, but this will continue.”

The ranch said in the release it was glad legislation that would give CYFD more oversight over programs like theirs did not pass this year’s legislative session.

“While we do not oppose oversight, we perceived the bills as an effort to confer legitimacy concerning the state’s actions last fall and to avert the agreement we reveal today,” the ranch’s release states.

Three stipulations in the released agreement are redacted and Varela said that’s because the information is confidential.

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