ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As she recalls it, the stuffed monkeys were strung up by their little toy necks and hung from the ceiling of the state Children, Youth and Families Department’s Juvenile Probation and Parole Office in Farmington.
“They were getting ready for a gang presentation, and the supervisors were asking the office to come up with a gang name, a phony gang name, and someone said, ‘Let’s have a monkey something gang,’ ” said Crystal Nuttall, who worked as the office secretary for nearly five years until her termination in May. “But it came at the wrong time.”
Days before, a 14-year-old girl from the nearby Navajo reservation had wrapped a lamp cord around her neck and hanged herself, one of five juveniles on the reservation to take their lives that spring 2010.
It had been all over the local news in Farmington, and Nuttall said it was well-known among the staff members, who deal daily with kids from the reservation.
It should have been known, she said, by district chief Heather Faverino and office supervisor Krista Lawrence, the two CYFD bosses who Nuttall said inspired the monkey gallows.
You’ve seen Faverino and Lawrence before. They’re the women I and a host of other news outlets across the country reported on when three photographs taken of them in 2009 surfaced about three weeks ago. In the photos, the women are mugging in front of a Raiders pennant as they brandish handguns and throw gang signs.
The guns, the women said, were not real. But the idiocy of the photos was.
Faverino and Lawrence have been on paid administrative leave since Aug. 26 because of their gangsta voguing — the same day I informed CYFD and the Governor’s Office that I had the photos, which had arrived anonymously, as these things tend to do, in my email inbox.
Suspending the women was a sure and swift move by CYFD Secretary Yolanda Deines, who has had her hands full lately with problematic employees charged with groping children, partying with teens and carrying a crack pipe into a youth detention facility.
“If you’re not upholding our standard of ethical comportment,” Deines said in a marvelously bold warning to staff, “then I’ll be the first one to push you in front of the train.”
She’s got a lot of pushing to do.
For years, CYFD has been plagued with rigid, retaliatory and unsupportive management and bloated caseloads strangled in red tape.
The caring and competent social workers and juvenile probation officers — and I have met many in my 20 or so years dealing with CYFD — either burn out, are run out or learn to stay so low under the radar they can barely do their jobs.
Deines called CYFD “comatose” when she inherited it in January. I say CYFD is on life support.
Within hours of my contacting CYFD about the photos, the booted supervisors went on the defensive, arming themselves with Farmington attorney Steve Murphy and granting an interview to The Daily Times of Farmington.
They blamed the photos on Nuttall and another unnamed, fired employee.
“All these stories, all these photographs are coming from disgruntled ex-employees,” Murphy said. “You don’t have to know there’s a skunk underneath a porch because you can smell the skunk.”
Faverino, who also runs a side business called Rural Street Gang Education Training and Community Outreach, took to her website — www.streetgangoutreach.com — and issued a defiant, uppercase retort:
“Some may have lost trust and confidence in me but that is a shame because that means they are listening to the news media who are only trying to sell a story and don’t care if it’s accurate or not.”
Faverino, on her website, called the photos “quite silly” and said they were planned for use as a “light-hearted or humorous” slide in a gang presentation.
The photos were scrapped before the presentation, however, Murphy said.
Nuttall, who took the photos, said she knows nothing of this presentation. She said she had been taking photos for ID badges when Faverino and Lawrence decided it would be fun to make fun of the kids who pose for similar photos.
“I just remember them saying. ‘Hey, let’s do funny pictures,’ I think is how they put it,” she said. “It didn’t surprise me. They goofed around like that all the time in the office.”
Nuttall said she is not the one who sent the photos to me, to CYFD or to anybody. She is coming forward now to clear her name.
As for being disgruntled, she said that, since being fired — apparently for having to miss work when her baby sitter had to go to the hospital — she has never felt less so.
“There was so much stress at that job,” she said. “I am happy to be gone.”
Public reaction to the photos has ranged from those who think it’s all no big deal to those who think the women should be fired. CYFD spokesman Enrique Knell declined to say which way the department is leaning.
Faverino and Lawrence were camping and unavailable for comment, their lawyer said.
Missing from all of this is any apology, any acknowledgment from the women that the hanging monkeys or the photos, even if they were both done in a moment of mindless lightness, could be construed as offensive or demeaning to the very community they are supposed to serve.
That, I think, is the most damning aspect of the photos.
Perception is everything, and the photos and monkeys give off a brittle disconnect, an unconscious arrogance.
“Yes, maybe they were blowing off steam, maybe it was all in fun,” Nuttall said. “But why would you want to make fun of gang members? Why would you want to make fun of people you are trying to help?”
I hear the train a comin’. It remains to be seen whether Deines is at the tracks, ready to push.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline Gutierrez Krueger at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal