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Sex assault claim shakes NM juvenile justice system

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

The director of the state’s juvenile justice services has resigned, two administrators are on paid leave, and all of the youths held at a southern New Mexico juvenile detention center have been relocated while State Police investigate the alleged sexual assault of a male inmate by a female staff therapist.

About 12 male youths were moved out of the medium-security Lincoln Pines Youth Center, formerly known as Camp Sierra Blanca, near Ruidoso earlier this week.

CYFD spokesman Henry Varela said CYFD notified State Police about the allegation Feb. 8. He wouldn’t disclose the age of the alleged victim and refused to say when the assault allegedly occurred, citing the pending investigation.

The therapist, whom he wouldn’t identify, is no longer with state government, Varela said. She left her job the day after State Police were called in to investigate.

Varela wouldn’t say whether the employee resigned or was fired. She was on probationary status after being hired by CYFD last November.

Asked whether there could be other victims, Varela said: “That’s what’s currently being investigated by State Police. The department is taking this seriously. Obviously, that’s why a full assessment was done right away.”

Varela said the relocation of the 12 inmates to other CYFD juvenile centers was necessary to conduct the “exhaustive” assessment of the facility, which opened in October 2013 for male youths 18 years old and younger.

“The main part of that assessment is, of course, to ensure the safety and well-being of those clients that are there,” Varela told the Journal.

Also on Monday, Juvenile Justice Services director Sandra Stewart tendered her resignation after less than two years in the position. Stewart’s last day on the job is today, Varela said.

She previously served as administrator of the Chaves County Detention Center in Roswell.

Asked whether Stewart’s departure was related to the Lincoln Pines assessment, Varela said, “I can’t answer that because there was no reason given in the resignation.”

Meanwhile, as part of the assessment, the center’s superintendent and its program manager were placed on paid administrative leave Feb. 27.

Juveniles are committed to CYFD detention centers for a wide range of offenses, including probation violations, burglary and aggravated battery, a CYFD report states.

Meanwhile, the 40 or so employees at the detention center are undergoing additional training, Varela said.

Miles D. Conway, spokesman for the AFSCME Council 18, said union members who work at the center are “devastated that this has happened.”

Aside from the alleged assault, “They’re certainly uncomfortable at the moment wondering, ‘Are they going to shut the facility down?’ ”

“These individuals,” Conway added, “are dedicated to these kids and into rehabilitating them. There’s a lot of good work that goes on there.”

Varela told the Journal the idea of closing the center “is very premature.”

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