On Monday night, Nicholas Clinton was so inebriated that he and his 5-year-old daughter were denied access to a city bus. Hours later, he showed up at a local shelter without his daughter and was unable to say where she was, or remember where he left her.
Luckily, she was found safe the next morning on another city bus, accompanied by a woman who happened to have an outstanding warrant.
It’s hard to imagine what went through the little girl’s mind, or the dangers she could have faced during that 16-hour window. It’s also hard to imagine how her parents — or any parents — could expose their child to as much trauma as she has faced in her short lifetime.
Yet, the state agency charged with protecting these young victims keeps returning her to those parents.
According to court records, the girl has witnessed violent and intoxicated fights between her parents at motel rooms, homeless shelters and in the streets dating back to July 2018 when she was 14 months old. Back in July, the girl hit her father with a stick “in an attempt to save her mother” as he choked her mom in a hotel room.
It’s a story that breaks the heart of the most jaded person.
Through the years, Nicholas Clinton has been charged in four domestic violence incidents. The girl’s mother, Kimberly Mariano, has been charged in three DV cases, including one in which the couple allegedly brought their daughter along to buy methamphetamine.
All of those cases but one were eventually dismissed by prosecutors because either Clinton or Mariano did not want to cooperate with police.
Clinton was arrested on misdemeanor charges Tuesday and later released from jail. Police say he lost his temper and almost attacked an officer as police questioned him while his daughter was still missing.
It isn’t as if the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department did not know about the life this little one was being forced to live. This week’s incident led to the third time CYFD has taken her into a 48-hour hold.
In one instance, in 2019, the agency placed a 48-hour hold on the girl after Albuquerque police responded to a fight between her parents at the Imperial Inn, where empty liquor bottles littered the motel room’s floor. Her parents couldn’t explain how she got a cut on her arm.
After the girl was found Tuesday morning, CYFD placed her on another 48-hour hold. She is now with an out-of-state relative who was given a hotel room for the pair.
Police say her inebriated father showed up at a homeless shelter without her Monday night. Authorities issued an Amber Alert at 8:51 a.m. Tuesday and the girl was discovered just minutes later. The one silver lining of the girl’s disappearance is that the Amber Alert system appeared to have worked as intended.
Detectives are working with prosecutors to decide proper charges against Clinton for neglect. They’re also conducting additional interviews to verify details about the girl’s whereabouts throughout the night.
CYFD’s goal is to keep families together whenever possible. But allowing a young girl to continue being returned to combative, inebriated, drug-using parents? Allowing her to witness drug deals and repeated domestic violence?
From May to July this year, authorities responded to three separate incidents where Clinton reportedly attacked Mariano. Officers responded to Joy Junction on June 4 and found the front door to an apartment broken, and a bruised Mariano crying inside. The young girl was also there.
Most recently, Mariano was arrested on Sept. 26 after beating up Clinton in front of the girl at the Railyard Park in Santa Fe. It’s possible CYFD provided services and help to the parents to help them be better parents. But, at some point, enough is enough.
Too many times, we have seen a child die due to attempts to keep a family together. Ultimately, the safety and well-being of the child should override all other considerations.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.