A former mental health counselor whose alleged drug-fueled sex with a 17-year-old juvenile offender led to the closure of a state-run detention center near Ruidoso in 2015 has been found by a judge to be incompetent to stand trial on criminal charges – at least for now.
Julie Ann Barham, 38, who is facing seven counts of criminal sexual penetration in the second degree and other charges, had been free on a $30,000 appearance bond for more than a year when she was found to have “certain medical/mental health conditions” that would prevent her from assisting her lawyer in the defense of her case.
District Judge Daniel A. Bryant of Carrizozo, in response to the defense evaluations of Barham, called an indefinite halt to the proceedings just as the case was scheduled to go to trial last August. The court record shows no further evaluations or tests of Barham have been ordered. It is unclear what, if anything, will happen to the prosecution.
Neither Mitchell nor officials with the District Attorney’s Office in Carrizozo returned Journal requests for comment.
With the criminal case stalled, a federal magistrate earlier this month issued a 90-day stay on a related civil rights lawsuit pending against Barham, a psychotherapist, and her former employer, the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the boy, now 19, whose complaint about Barham led to her firing from the Lincoln Pines Youth Center north of Ruidoso in February 2015 and spurred the criminal investigation. He remains in the custody of CYFD until he turns 21, his lawsuit states.
Barham is alleged to have provided the boy with the drug Xanax, which she crushed and they both snorted during therapy sessions in her clinic at the CYFD facility, the lawsuit states. The boy had been a victim of prior sexual abuse before being confined to Lincoln Pines and CYFD “knew or should have known” that he was “susceptible to manipulation and sexual abuse by staff or therapists,” the lawsuit states.
Meanwhile, Barham has been allowed to leave the state for medical reasons while out on bond, court records show.
“Defendant has a heart condition and travels to Texas for an aneurism and a heart condition,” according to court records. Barham also takes care of her mother and has a child in school. Under the conditions of release issued in June 2015, the judge allowed her to attend church with her daughter and her parents.
But last July, her attorney Gary Mitchell filed a notice that Barham was incompetent due to “neurological issues.”
“The defense has disclosed to the State evaluations setting forth the conditions which at the present time and into the future make it impossible for her to competently assist her attorney, withstand the rigors of a trial and testify on her behalf,” the notice states. “Her capacity has been diminished to such an extent that she could not and did not have any intent to commit a criminal act so indicated in the evaluation to the State.”
Her evaluation wasn’t part of the public file.
The civil lawsuit faults CYFD for negligently hiring Barham after she allegedly had a prior incident involving inappropriate contact with a student at a school where she worked. The school wasn’t identified. CYFD hired Barham in November 2014 to provide mental health counseling for juveniles incarcerated at Lincoln Pines.
Supervisors allegedly failed to monitor logs that showed Barham spending excessive amounts of time with the boy in individual counseling sessions, the lawsuit states. Barham covered the window in the door to her clinic and shut the blinds when the two allegedly had sexual relations.
After the alleged sexual contact and drug use became known, CYFD officials launched a safety assessment of the facility and its operations. Employees were reassigned, the juvenile offenders transferred and two supervisors were dismissed, according to the lawsuit. CYFD alleged in part that the supervisors were negligent in performing their duties related to Barham’s conduct, the lawsuit states.
There were also issues related to the safety of resident juveniles and failures to follow policies and procedures, the lawsuit states.
“CYFD closed the facility at (Lincoln Pines) in March 2015, in part or in whole because of the illicit sexual contact by Barham with Plaintiff and the general lack of safety for resident juveniles,” according to the lawsuit. The $2.5 million facility, which opened in January 2014, had housed about 12 juvenile offenders at the time.