The criminal case against a former staff member at the Youth Diagnostic and Development Center, accused in a civil suit of beating and sexually assaulting resident children, was closed after falling through the cracks.
Eddie Aragon Jr., 31, was arrested and charged by State Police in February 2012 for child abuse, but the case was closed last October when the District Attorney’s Office said it failed to get additional information needed to proceed.
On Wednesday, that case was reopened following inquiries made by the Journal and four lawsuits filed on behalf of children alleging they had been beaten and abused by YDDC staffers – including Aragon.
Kayla Anderson, a spokeswoman for the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office, said an initial report on Aragon was received in February 2012, but the case was closed in October after “multiple follow-up requests” for additional documentation went unanswered by State Police investigators.
“We could not proceed with prosecution because we did not receive a completed case from law enforcement,” she said.
State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said Wednesday that he only learned the case had been closed after the lawsuit filings naming Aragon as a defendant led to inquiries from the Journal. On Wednesday, Kassetas said he contacted District Attorney Kari Brandenburg to determine what outstanding documentation was still needed.
“I won’t dispute that her office contacted us for additional information. I didn’t see any communications, but I’ll take their word for it at face value,” he said. “I would characterize this as a miscommunication between the DA’s Office and the State Police, but it is our case and our investigation and we take full responsibility to move the case forward.”
Kassetas said State Police have a “very robust system” in hand-delivering documentation to the DA’s Office. “They are dealing with a massive caseload and so are we, and sometimes things get lost. I make no excuse for it. All I want to do is fix what’s wrong and move forward. It’s our case, our responsibility.”
Brandenburg confirmed Wednesday that she had been in contact with Kassetas and said the Aragon case will be “reopened and re-evaluated” with the additional documentation, which includes video, recording of interviews, photos and follow-up reports.
“I’m sure this isn’t the only case State Police was working,” Brandenburg said. “They are usually very responsive and timely about getting us everything we need to review a case.”
In the lawsuits filed on behalf of the four boys formerly held at YDDC, Santa Fe attorney James A. Hayes identified Aragon as a “youth care specialist.” According to the lawsuit, plaintiff Jacob Gonzales, then 16, was “viciously attacked without provocation” by Aragon, who punched him, threw him to the cement floor and into a window because “defendant believed plaintiff was singing.”
Aragon then entered the cell of 14-year-old Dante Wood where he allegedly choked him and then “fiercely” punched him in the face, temple and body before “wildly throwing” the 110-pound boy to the cement floor, according to the suit.
Aragon later approached Gonzales a second time, while the boy was in the shower, the lawsuit says. Aragon “shoved plaintiff against the shower wall and struck him in the face and then pressed his body against the nude child’s genitals,” warning him not to talk to police about the previous attacks.
Those incidents occurred on Feb. 18, 2012. Aragon was arrested and charged the next day. He was still on his six-month probation period and was terminated immediately, according to a story in the Journal .
In general, incidents described in the lawsuits involving the four plaintiffs happened between January and April 2012.
Hayes said in the lawsuits that Aragon was hired even though he had “a criminal record of aggravated assault and past gang membership and involvement.”
In addition to sexual abuse and beatings, the lawsuits claim the four plaintiffs were at times denied access to medical care, food and toilets, and they had to urinate in drinking cups.
Besides Aragon, 12 other defendants are named in the lawsuits, including the state Children, Youth and Families Department, which runs YDDC, and CYFD Secretary Yolanda Berumen-Deines.