ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — State Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, has asked the Attorney General’s Office to conduct an independent investigation into the killing of 10-year-old Victoria Martens as well as examine the state Children, Youth and Families Department to determine if “all processes were followed, including a supervisory high-level review.”
Padilla, the Senate’s majority whip, made the request in a letter to Attorney General Hector Balderas on Sept. 15.
A spokesman in the Governor’s Office on Tuesday dismissed Padilla’s effort as “political grandstanding.”
In his letter, Padilla asked Balderas to appoint “an independent non-partisan blue ribbon commission” composed of former members of the state judiciary to investigate CYFD, the state Department of Corrections and “any touch points that Victoria Martens had with any government agency, including referrals from Albuquerque Public Schools.”
Padilla told the Journal on Tuesday that it was his understanding APS contacted CYFD at least twice with concerns about Victoria and/or her younger brother. He also noted that in a 2014 executive order, Gov. Susana Martinez directed CYFD to perform “a supervisory high-level review” of any family that has been the subject of two CYFD investigations, regardless if abuse or neglect was substantiated.
“That’s the protocol,” said CYFD spokesman Henry Varela, but confirming that had been done is prohibited under the Children’s Code, which is state law.
Padilla said the issue is particularly meaningful to him because he and his siblings grew up in foster care.
Balderas responded to Padilla in a letter released Tuesday, saying he agreed there were “unacceptable gaps in the system” and that “New Mexico is not doing enough to protect its children.”
Balderas didn’t commit to a commission, as envisioned by Padilla, but he did say that staffers are looking at “issues surrounding possible points of intervention.”
Michael Lonergan, a spokesman for the governor, said it’s “unfortunate that Michael Padilla is playing partisan politics with this tragedy.”
While the Governor’s Office takes “every child abuse case seriously,” Lonergan said, “we don’t take the political grandstanding … seriously.”
Victoria Martens, a student at Petroglyph Elementary School, was found dead in her family’s apartment Aug. 24. Police say they believe the little girl was forced to use methamphetamine before being raped and stabbed. Police found her dismembered and still burning body in a bathtub.
The girl’s mother, her boyfriend, and the boyfriend’s cousin have been charged in connection with the child’s death.
APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta on Tuesday said Superintendent Raquel Reedy is “confident that everyone at the school and district level followed the process.”
That process involves contacting CYFD or law enforcement when there is a suspicion of child abuse or neglect.
Varela said the Children’s Code prevents him from confirming such contacts between APS and CYFD. He did say that “CYFD has never done an investigation into anything of a violent or sexual nature” regarding the Martens children.
Albuquerque Police Department spokeswoman Celina Espinoza said that “based on our ongoing, active investigation, CYFD appears to have acted appropriately in their previous interactions with this family. Those interactions are not a factor in our investigation at this time.”