Albuquerque police have released a report on yet another allegation of abuse against Omaree Varela’s mother, Synthia Varela-Casaus, who was charged with killing her son late last year.
The most recent incident to come to light happened on Dec. 24, 2012 – just two months after Omaree told officials at his school that his mother had hit him with a home phone. Police and CYFD investigated both incidents, neither of which resulted in criminal charges.
A year later, on Dec. 27, 2013, Omaree died after Varela-Casaus said she “kicked him the wrong way.” She has since been charged with child abuse resulting in death and various related charges.
In the December 2012 incident, the police officer wrote that he could find only one witness and that surveillance video was inconclusive. The officer did alert the state Children, Youth and Families Department and asked paramedics to examine then-8-year-old Omaree Varela, according to the police report provided by APD. The paramedics did not find any evidence of injury.
The incident began when a witness called police to say he saw Varela-Casaus hit her young son, Omaree, while the pair were in the Cricket wireless store on Menaul Boulevard. Officer Jeff Jones responded to the call and questioned employees at the store, several of whom said that Varela-Casaus slapped her son. Varela-Casaus had left the store by that time.
The officer then went to Varela-Casaus’ home. She told the officer that her son had substantial behavioral disabilities but that she did not strike him.
The officer then took Omaree aside, and the child said he had been misbehaving inside the store. He also said that his mother did not strike him, but he “provided (the officer) with few details,” the officer wrote in the report.
The witness who made the initial 911 call later told the officer that he saw Varela-Casaus punching the child in the stomach and his left thigh.
The officer then reviewed surveillance video at the Cricket store, but he said the video was grainy and from too far away to tell if the abuse occurred.
However, the officer contacted CYFD, according to the report.
CYFD spokesman Henry Varela said his agency also investigated the incident.
“After the report was received by CYFD, the report was screened into our system and a full investigation took place,” Varela wrote in an email to the Journal . “The investigation was thoroughly conducted according to CYFD policy and procedure, which include a home visit and individual, segregated interviews with everybody in a household.”
When the investigation was complete, he wrote, the findings “concurred with those of law enforcement.”
An APD spokeswoman said the department discovered the December 2012 report during a full investigation into Omaree’s death. This is the third reported contact between APD and the boy before his death, and it came two months after the boy claimed at his school that he had been beaten by his mother with a home telephone.
The APD spokeswoman did not respond to questions about whether the officer would have known about the previous calls, including one at the same address, involving Varela-Casaus and her son. Both previous calls recorded Omaree as the alleged victim and his mother as the alleged perpetrator.
However, interim APD Chief Allen Banks said in a recent interview with the Journal that officers do not always have information on previous APD contacts with an individual or at an address. “Sometimes we have what’s called hazards, or information on a house or residents, but sometimes residents move out and rental properties move out. … The Real Time Crime Center is another option we’re working on, trying to improve our technology in notifying officers as they respond to different priority calls.”
Banks was responding to questions in connection with a June 2013 incident in which a 911 operator recorded an obscenity-laden and extremely verbally abusive tirade from the home of Varela-Casaus and her husband, Steve Casaus. The target of the tirade was Omaree Varela.
It’s not clear who made the call and the husband and wife clearly didn’t know the phone was activated and the call was being monitored. Two APD officers were dispatched to the home, where their lapel cameras recorded them on scene for 15-20 minutes but they formally cleared the scene an hour and 45 minutes after arriving. No arrests or reports were made. The officers have been placed on leave pending the results of an internal affairs investigation.
The officers apparently did not contact dispatch to listen to the recorded 911 call as requested by the dispatcher.
They were also apparently unaware of previous police contacts with the family.
Asked if they should have known, Banks said, “I wish we had a crystal ball. … We’re not going to have information on every single call we go to. It’s just impossible.”
Varela-Casaus has since been charged with child abuse resulting in death and various related charges in Omaree’s death, after admitting she “kicked him wrong” in late December 2013. She initially told police he fell off a toy horse.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the type of phone Varela-Casaus allegedly struck her son with, prompting the boy to alert school officials.