Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
The child came to school wearing clothes so dirty it was impossible to tell their original color. She was hungry. She couldn’t remember the last time she bathed.
Her teacher left clean clothes in the classroom bathroom for her almost daily. She sent food home nearly every night. When the girl needed rest, her teacher let her nap in a cot, and often she slept until lunchtime.
That was the testimony, often through tears, of an Albuquerque Public Schools teacher Monday about the 7-year-old girl in her class who prosecutors say was abused and trafficked. James Stewart and Teri Sanchez face charges related to the case.
“The system was failing her. I know it was. Because I called and I called. And I did everything that I was supposed to do through my training,” the teacher said. “I called CYFD because she was starving, because she was dirty, because she needed physical care. Then I called the police officers any time and every time she said that she was breaking the law.”
The testimony came in the second portion of a hearing during which prosecutors for the state Attorney General’s Office sought to prove that Sanchez and Stewart should be detained pending trial.
The unusually long hearing began Friday, continued Monday and is expected to wrap up today.
The teacher described other concerning behavior, like the time the student came to school with fake nails, white heels, and perfect eyeliner.
Another time, in November, after the girl changed clothes and cleaned up in the bathroom, the teacher said she noticed a bloodstain in the crotch of her underwear.
She stored the clothing in an empty classroom until police arrived, but the officer she spoke with said he could not take the underwear because they had not been stored in a secure location.
“So he took them out and threw them in the dumpster,” the teacher said. “I was really, really angry. I was going to get into the dumpster and get them out, because that’s not OK.”
In the end, she wasn’t able to.
When the girl stopped showing up to school around spring break, her teacher was terrified, but felt like there was nothing she could do.
“I was afraid that she wasn’t eating. I was afraid she was hurt,” the teacher said.
Another school staff member testified about what appeared to be a failure by the state Children, Youth and Families Department to follow up on calls by school personnel.
And to make matters worse, when Stewart learned of referrals to CYFD or police, he would come to the school angry, the staff member said.
“He wasn’t afraid to get in people’s faces, he wasn’t afraid to enter loudly or yell,” she said.
She worried about what might happen to the girl and her brother over the summer break, and said she was “relieved to know that they were alive” when she learned they’d re-enrolled in the fall.
Later testimony Monday shed light on the difficulties Sanchez has faced.
A social worker for the Law Office of the Public Defender testified that Sanchez told her she has been diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome and has an intellectual disability.
She was enrolled in special education classes as a child and participated in the Special Olympics.