Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
The state Children, Youth and Families Department has expanded its internal investigation into how employees handled the case of a 7-year-old girl who was allegedly being prostituted by relatives, resulting in 11 suspensions, demotions and terminations, CYFD Cabinet Secretary Monique Jacobson said Friday.
She declined to provide names of the disciplined workers or say how many of the 11 received which type of disciplinary action.
She did say that all were from CYFD’s Bernalillo County office and their positions ranged from case workers through supervisory management. The original four who were placed on paid administrative leave last month, as well as one other person, “are not returning to work at this time,” she said.
In addition to the discipline, Jacobson stressed that CYFD is “committed to improving the agency overall, and looking for systemic issues that have come out throughout the entire process.”
As a result of the CYFD investigation, Jacobson said, the agency will be “bringing in more workers, improving training and providing them with additional evidence-based tools to aid them in their decision making.”
She did not provide more details about those changes.
Greg Williams, an attorney and member of the executive board of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government said CYFD is withholding disciplinary information in violation of state law.
“The names of the employees and the extent of their discipline and the facts leading up to that discipline are all public record,” he said. “The law permits CYFD to withhold only opinions surrounding the discipline, but nothing else is protected by law.”
Jacobson said she would not provide the names on “the advice of our lawyers and with regard to the State Personnel Act and the union collective bargaining agreement.”
She said the disciplined employees “have a right to appeal to the State Personnel Board, or to an arbitrator if they are union-covered employees.”
Williams said, “This is a matter of importance to the public, and the citizens have a right to know what discipline was handed out and for what reasons. If CYFD is relying on personnel regulations or any collective bargaining agreement, they are incorrectly interpreting the law.”
CYFD portal used
Jacobson also said CYFD will continue working to train law enforcement officers on the CYFD portal, “so that they have access to a family’s history of involvement with CYFD.”
The portal, Jacobson said, was used by the Albuquerque Police Department at least once in connection with the case of the 7-year-old girl, and subsequently used by the Attorney General’s Office after it took over the investigation that resulted in the AG’s Office filing criminal complaints in Metropolitan Court against the relatives of the child.
According to that complaint, CYFD and law enforcement had encountered the family of the girl multiple times dating back to 2012, yet the girl and her siblings remained with the family until April.
The case sparked public criticism and questions aimed at CYFD and Albuquerque police due to their response to a specific report in November in which a teacher reported she found blood on the little girl’s underwear when she was changing into clean clothes. APD did not take the underwear into evidence, and neither did APD nor CYFD push for a forensic interview.
That lack of response was made public after the AG’s Office investigated and filed charges in May.
Arrested in connection with the case were James Stewart and Teri Sanchez, both 37.
Stewart has been indicted on 14 counts, including promoting prostitution, criminal sexual contact with a minor, trafficking a child, and seven counts of child abuse.
Sanchez is charged with five counts of child abuse and one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. According to the indictment, she is accused of hitting and slapping the girl, selling her clothing and failing to feed and bathe her.
State District Judge Alisa Hart ruled during a May 15 hearing that the couple will remain in jail while awaiting trial.
According to the criminal complaint filed in Metropolitan Court by the AG’s Office, the girl told special agents that Stewart had forced her to perform sex acts on his “friends” in exchange for “weed and pipes and stuff.” The complaint said both the girl and her 8-year-old brother told agents that Stewart and Sanchez would encourage them to panhandle and pickpocket, often by themselves.
Triggering the investigation was a report in April by a school nurse who had received training from the AG’s Office on recognizing signs of trafficking.
But even before then, school employees had raised concerns about the girl and one of her brothers frequently being unkempt, absent from school and falling asleep in class.
The little girl, they said, was once dropped off at her elementary school wearing high heels, a dress, press-on nails and makeup, according to the complaint. At that time, the girl had made comments about Sanchez making her “hustle” and that the woman would take her to strip clubs and leave her alone while she got drunk.