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Gov.: CYFD not to blame in abuse case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Gov. Susana Martinez on Monday defended her Children, Youth and Families Department in the wake of a new child abuse incident that left a 4-month-old child in critical condition.

Elijah Fernandez, 19, was arrested in Albuquerque on Saturday following allegations that he had raped and severely beaten the 4-month-old daughter of his girlfriend, leaving the infant on life support at the University of New Mexico Hospital. He was being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center on $100,000 cash-only bond.

That incident comes two months after 9-year-old Omaree Varela allegedly was killed by injuries from abuse by his mother. She has pleaded not guilty.

Both Omaree and the 4-month-old had been on the CYFD radar before the injuries occurred.

But Martinez said the state isn’t the one responsible for the harm. Like Omaree, injuries suffered by the unidentified 4-month-old could not have been predicted or prevented by CYFD, the governor said Monday.

“In this case, it is so clear that the suspect caused extreme harm to this child by raping this child and causing head injury,” Martinez said. “The only one responsible was that individual. They (CYFD) had been called before, but it had nothing to do with physical abuse of that baby infant, had nothing to do with physical abuse of the two-year-old” sister.

“It had to do with the mother not being able to produce breast milk. It had to do when the baby was first born it had low levels of THC and it also had to do with mom missing one doctor’s appointment,” the governor said. “There were no allegations and this man was not living within the home.”


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Since Varela’s death in December, several community groups have demanded the resignation of CYFD Secretary Yolanda Deines.

But Martinez on Monday said she stood behind her appointed CYFD secretary.

The abuse “doesn’t connect in any way to someone who is so experienced and so passionate as Secretary Deines is, and as I have been,” Martinez said. “Kids are our No. 1. … To ask for that (resignation), it does not make any sense when we know exactly who caused this harm.”