A southern New Mexico legislative candidate who runs a Boys & Girls Club is being sued for negligence after a former employee was sentenced to prison for sexually abusing two boys.
The parents of one boy are suing Republican candidate for District 38 Rebecca Dow, claiming she ignored “obvious red flags” that could have prevented Alejandro Hernandez from hurting two 13-year-old boys during his employment at the Boys & Girls Club of Sierra County in Truth or Consequences.
Dow told the Journal: “In our facilities we go to great lengths to ensure the safety of our students, including background checks. I can’t comment on the things they have alleged against me, but I trust the legal system will work.”
An amended complaint filed in the 7th Judicial District last week names Dow, Amelia Wilcox, AppleTree Educational Center and the Boys & Girls Club of Sierra County. Dow serves as executive director, and Wilcox serves as assistant director at AppleTree, a faith-based, nonprofit daycare and preschool that provides “comprehensive family support services,” according to its website.
The lawsuit alleges that Dow and other defendants put Hernandez in charge of organizing a May 29, 2015, overnight “lockdown sleepover” in which Hernandez was the adult chaperone, despite a March 18, 2015, incident for which Hernandez was given a written warning for questioning a female teen about her sex life with her boyfriend.
At the sleepover, Hernandez molested a 13-year-old boy. In March, Hernandez pleaded guilty to multiple counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor and was sentenced to six years in prison.
Administrators allegedly learned of the abuse after a second boy was raped by Hernandez in July at a sleepover or similar event. Truth or Consequences Police Chief Lee Alirez said Boys & Girls Club and administrators reported that abuse to police immediately; a police detective arrested Hernandez within hours of the report.
The administration was “very cooperative” with the investigation, Alirez said.
Alirez said detectives investigated the program’s hiring practices and found they had “three levels” of background checks, including fingerprinting and screening for an applicant’s name on sex offender registries. Background checks did not flag Hernandez for past convictions.
But the lawsuit alleges Dow and other defendants “failed to conduct interviews with former employers” and “did not question the perpetrator on some of the incredible claims in his resume,” including that he coordinated five-day evangelical children’s camps in Houston in 2007 when he would have been 15 years old or that he was the children’s ministry teacher and “worship leader” at a Baptist church at 14 years old.
The lawsuit charges that the defendants did not investigate the claims on his résumé but “took the assurances of his mother, who was also an employee of the defendants.”
“Defendants should have known that having a sleepover with Hernandez as an adult chaperone was inappropriate particularly in light of the March 18, 2015, incident and other troubling information indicated in his application and known to defendants,” according to the lawsuit.
The Boys & Girls Club of Sierra County sent a letter to parents in late July 2015 referring to “inappropriate conduct by a staff member.” The letter, a copy of which is attached to the complaint, doesn’t mention the May incident of abuse.