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Youth’s case offers glimpse into juvenile justice system

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Just a day after a state Children’s Court judge offered Enrique Palomino his first glimpse of freedom in three years by placing him on supervised probation, newly unsealed court records show Palomino allegedly punched another youth in the face.

Enrique Palomino

On Oct. 27, before Palomino could be released under supervision into a transition or reintegration setting, he allegedly struck a 17-year-old boy after warning him not to “disrespect him” while they played basketball at the Bernalillo County juvenile detention center. Both were incarcerated at the time, records state.

The alleged assault could be a turning point for the 18-year-old Palomino, who was among the six teenagers prosecuted in the “mobbing” that led to the shooting death of a 60-year-old Albuquerque man in 2015.

Palomino, who has had nearly three years of behavioral and mental health treatment in the juvenile justice system, has been charged with felony child abuse and is confined to the Metropolitan Detention Center. A hearing on the charge in Metropolitan Court is set for Dec. 18. Children’s Court prosecutors filed a petition, meanwhile, to revoke his probation.

After the altercation, juvenile court records show detention center staff placed Palomino in physical and mechanical restraints to try to calm him down. During the 18-minute ordeal to de-escalate the situation, Palomino was quoted as saying to staff, “Just watch when I get out of these cuffs Ima (sic) stand up to you.”

Children’s Court prosecutors want him committed to detention until he’s 21. Palomino’s attorney argues that he should get more treatment and transition services. Children’s Court Judge John Romero has yet to decide his fate.

Records unsealed

Court records, unsealed by the state District Clerk’s office at the request of the Journal, show the outcome of years of state efforts to rehabilitate Palomino.

He admitted to being involved in the June 26, 2015, crime spree that involved the teenagers, whose ages ranged from 14 to 17. Palomino helped provide information to police about the group’s home and car break-ins, the attempted shooting of an elderly man that night, and the shooting death of Steve Gerecke in his driveway. Two of the six teens, including the one who fired the fatal shots, were charged as adults. Palomino was in a car at the time of the shooting, prosecutors say.

Both prosecutors and Palomino’s attorney agreed in 2016 that he was amenable to treatment in available juvenile facilities after he pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary, conspiracy, larceny and taking a motor vehicle.

Court records reveal Palomino had a sometimes rocky road toward rehabilitation. Of four different treatment facilities he was admitted to, two kicked him out for infractions that included possession of drug paraphernalia and escaping after he beat up a youth at a Utah treatment center.

The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office and officials at the state Children, Youth and Families Department have argued for Palomino to be committed to a juvenile detention facility in New Mexico for the public’s safety.

“His probation came as a surprise to us,” said Diana Garcia, a Children’s Court prosecutor at the DA’s Office.

His court-appointed attorney Steve McIlwain told the Journal he believes that his client, who endured abuse and neglect at home, and was placed in foster care when he was younger, has responded well to treatment overall.

“It’s like he’s on the verge of being able to get over all of this stuff (his past),” McIlwain said. “So the question is, ‘is there some other place to put him where he can get the kinds of services that everybody recognizes he needs’ or do you just throw him in jail until he’s 21?”

At that age, the juvenile justice system would have no further hold over Palomino.

Rule debate

Although juvenile criminal case records have historically been open to inspection in New Mexico, Palomino’s criminal case file and all others in Children’s Court had been closed to public inspection when the Journal recently asked to view the records.

After initially refusing to release the information, the Second Judicial District Court clerk’s office, which oversees Children’s Court records, later issued an email reversing the decision. Court officials cited “confusion” over whether the state Supreme Court had formally adopted a rule change that would close such records to the public.

Automatic sealing of such cases was briefly implemented, but was suspended in January of this year. The issue remains under review by the high court. All three Children’s Court judges have supported the sealing proposal.

Open government advocates argue that the automatic sealing, in part, would hurt the public’s right to know how well the criminal justice system is working.

In Palomino’s case, his court records show he had once been an eighth-grader in Rio Rancho before absconding from his foster family.

He was accused of shoplifting and possession of alcohol by a minor in June 2014, according to news reports. On the night Gerecke was killed a year later, Palomino told police he had been “car mobbing with a group of friends.”

During a July 2015 interview of Palomino, an APD detective told him he had a chance to come clean about what occurred that night and “do what’s right.”

“I hope today is the day that maybe we can just get your life on the right track. People make mistakes,” the detective told Palomino.

Initially, records show, Palomino was placed at the Albuquerque-based Sequoyah Adolescent Treatment Center in Albuquerque, but was “unsuccessfully discharged” in less than three months after staff found him with drug paraphernalia, a homemade pipe and remnants of marijuana in his room. He also tested positive for marijuana, court records show.

His next stop was a residential treatment center in Detroit, Mich., in February 2017, after which Palomino was sent to the Utah Youth Village near Salt Lake City. There, Judge Romero wrote in one court record, Palomino would have a “greater opportunity to succeed” as opposed to being held at a youth detention center.

Within two months, however, Palomino had beaten up another youth at the Utah program and run away. The youth had to be taken to the hospital for medical attention and, while staff was gone, Palomino returned, “broke in through the back door,” took his belongings and left again, court records show. He ultimately was arrested and returned to Albuquerque, where Judge Romero “furloughed” him for further treatment at a behavioral health center in Fordyce, Ark.

His attorney said Palomino has been helped by treatment, noting that in Detroit he became a mentor to another youth incarcerated there.

“I think he’s different than some kids you see who are already incorrigible and we’ve already lost them. I think he’s different from them. I don’t think we’ve lost him yet,” McIlwain said.

Gun involvement

Court officials also made public previously withheld records involving Josiah Montaño, who was charged as a juvenile after he was arrested with two other youths for unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon on the grounds of Albuquerque High School in February of this year. Montaño, now 17, received six months probation, but was subsequently charged in April with assault or striking at someone with a deadly weapon, court records show. He was released from custody pending further Children’s Court proceedings. There is an outstanding warrant for his arrest after Montaño failed to appear in court in September.