Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Three siblings who had been removed from their mother amid abuse allegations have filed a lawsuit against the state’s Children, Youth and Families Department alleging they were abused by a male relative when the agency allowed them to stay with their mom on a trial basis.
Filed recently in state district court in Albuquerque by the children’s guardian ad litem, the lawsuit says all three children were physically abused by Charles Pruner, and one also suffered sexual abuse. Court documents show Pruner was criminally charged with raping the 4-year-old girl, but he was ultimately acquitted following a jury trial last spring.
The children, who are referred to in the lawsuit only by their initials, were taken into CYFD custody in January 2014 as a result of neglect and abuse allegations against their mother, the suit says. They were placed with a foster family for a period of time before being allowed a “trial home visit” with their mother.
CYFD maintained custody of the kids during the trial visit and the lawsuit argues that the agency had an obligation to ensure they had a safe place to live.
Trial home visits allow children with a reunification plan to live with a parent or guardian for up to six months while CYFD offers services to the family to address risk factors and ensure the child is safe, according to CYFD policy.
The kids’ mom left them home alone with Pruner on Jan. 2, 2015, which is when the girl was sexually and physically abused, according to the lawsuit. Abuse against the other two children is alleged to have happened on other occasions, the suit says.
“This case highlights the vulnerabilities of children in the abuse and neglect system and the great need for strong supports and supervision in place when working to reunite children with their parents,” said attorney Kelly Stout Sanchez, who filed the suit. “Without adequate support and resources in place, the risk of danger to children greatly increases.”
The lawsuit says that CYFD interviewed Pruner when the kids were initially taken into custody. They “knew or should have known that Pruner posed a serious risk of harm to the children, and his presence in the home, under all of the attendant circumstances, rendered the home unreasonably dangerous.”
A CYFD spokesman said he could not comment on the allegations in the lawsuit. A CYFD permanency planner who worked with the family is also named as a defendant.
Pruner was charged in state court with one count of criminal sexual penetration against a child under 13 and one count of child abuse. Jurors found him not guilty of the first count, and prosecutors dismissed the second after jurors were unable to reach a verdict.
Court documents in that case indicate the 4-year-old girl was taken to a hospital for an exam after blood was found in her underwear.
She later reported that Pruner hit her and raped her, according to court documents.