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Monday, January 06, 2014

Abuse Killing Of 9 Year Old Omaree Shadows And Stains State; Gov. Vindicates CYFD; Was She Too Hasty? Plus: Latest APD Lawsuit Settlement Raises Eyebrows, And: APD Chief Plays Race Card 

Determining any responsibility of CYFD and other government agencies for the tragic beating death of 9 year old Omaree Varela--allegedly at the hands of his mother--seems to have become a full-fledged CYA operation.

An alphabet soup of state agencies was aware to various degrees of the peril Omaree faced, including CYFD, APD, APS and the BernCo DA. Yet this little boy who cried out for rescue by telling CYFD and APS he was being abused never got the help he so desperately needed. His murder hangs over the state like a dark shadow. That's why Governor Martinez's absolution of her Children, Youth and Families Department in Omaree's death seems so hasty:

In the wake of the boy’s death, Martinez is pushing for new laws, and said she doesn’t feel any blame should fall on CYFD and that the investigation in 2012 was not botched.

You would think in the aftermath of one of the most shocking child abuse cases in recent history that the Governor would call for a top to bottom independent investigation of just what happened here. And how does she know so soon after the killing and with so much certainty that CYFD performed  capably?

Governor Martinez reminded everyone that the mother of this child is ultimately culpable and if guilty deserves the stiffest of punishments. But that's a no-brainer. Everyone knows that and agrees. What we don't know is why our state--as represented by CYFD, the ABQ police department, the ABQ Public Schools and the Bernalillo County District Attorney's office, was unable to stop this tragedy from occurring.

There is nothing good in the death of Omaree Varela but something good could come of it if it inspires some elected officials to stand up on his behalf and demand an investigation of each of the state agencies involved. Maybe you, Governor?

POWER TO PROTECT

Omaree
The Governor asserts that CYFD needs more authority to protect abused children, but one of our Legal Beagles disagrees. Here's Martinez's position:

Martinez believes CYFD should have the authority to take custody of a child if their parent does not follow through with counseling, classes and treatment after a CYFD investigation. She is calling for the Legislature to grant that authority to the department.

“The law doesn't give us any kind of ability to go back in and remove the child because you haven't followed through,” said Martinez. “We need that. We need to cover that gap.”


But our Legal Beagle argues the state already has the power Martinez wants for CYFD:

CYFD already has the authority to follow up. CYFD is the state entity entrusted to enforce the children's code in any way it deems necessary. From the Children's Code:

The purpose of the children's code is "first to provide for the care, protection and wholesome mental and physical development of children coming within the provisions of the Children's Code and then to preserve the unity of the family whenever possible. The child's health and safety shall be the paramount concern. Permanent separation of the child from the family, however, would especially be considered when the child or another child of the parent has suffered permanent or severe injury or repeated abuse. It is the intent of the legislature that, to the maximum extent possible, children in New Mexico shall be reared as members of a family unit."

Joe, Repeated abuse signifies that CYFD will monitor the family for "repeated abuse" and take whatever steps are necessary to protect the kid and that also means having a court appoint CYFD as legal guardian for the kid.

CYFD can also petition for "protective supervision" which "means the right to visit the child in the home where the child is residing, inspect the home, transport the child to court-ordered diagnostic examinations and evaluations and obtain information and records concerning the child."

Also note that the "department" referred to in the law "means the children, youth and families department, unless otherwise specified."

FROM THE INSIDE

A retired 25 year veteran of Child Protective Services (CPS) of CYFD who wishes to remain anonymous agrees with our Legal Beagle. He writes:

At CPS it is the responsibility of the state to identify the risk factors that lead to abuse, and to attempt to ameliorate the risk so that children can be as safe as possible in their homes. 

Contrary to the message conveyed by various CYFD representatives, the state is authorized to intervene with families through it's own policies and procedures and through use of internal and community resources. Even a cursory review of CYFD policies will confirm that this is the case. 

Certain families are targeted for a higher level of intervention, even without substantiating a particular incident of abuse. The intervention is compelled by policy and driven by an understanding that families with prior CPS involvement are at greater risk of future abuse. Where the family refuses help through state intervention, the record must show that diligent efforts were made to intervene and provide services. 

 Clearly we may never know if CYFD made diligent efforts to protect this child. The Governor's statement about not having the authority to force intervention is also somewhat misleading because it changes the impetus from a helping modality to a legal intervention. CPS is a Social Work practice first and foremost, and is intended to help families address the risk factors that lead to abuse. Legal intervention is usually a last resort. 

All child protective systems are basically devised in this manner. To me the bigger issue is whether the state exercised diligence to protect this child, and whether CYFD has the will to conduct a critical self-examination of its practice, face its shortcomings and make improvements.

THAT OTHER CRISIS

Banks and Berry
The social conditions crisis in New Mexico that is exemplified by Omaree's death is ongoing and generational. But what about the one that continues to fester in downtown ABQ? We speak of the crisis-ridden ABQ police department--a story that has made blog headlines for four years and promises to deliver more in this new year.

Mayor Berry--freshly reelected--seems both stubborn and oblivious--even as tale after tale of a corrupt APD culture continues to emerge. The latest is a $150,000 settlement the city entered resulting from over-the-top police misconduct:

They were pulled out of their home at gunpoint, thrown to the ground and threatened by snipers in “ninja” outfits, placed in the SWAT team’s tanker-like “Bearcat” vehicle and taken to a park, transferred to a police vehicle and driven to Albuquerque police headquarters for questioning, the lawsuits said. Attorney Coyte says perhaps the worst of it was that he spent two years trying to find a record of who actually made the arrests of Silva and the Villas, only to be frustrated. “The real troubling thing about the case is they (police) concealed the fact they ever went there,” Coyte said. “They never filed a police report.”

The story is going to reinforce the worse fears about APD--that we have a department that will not let the Bill of Rights get in its way.

That incident happened in April 2010 in the aftermath of one of those many police shootings. At the time Ray Schultz was APD chief and Darren White was his "boss" as Public Safety Director. They are both gone but the contaminated culture they presided over has apparently not followed them out the door. Retired APD Seargent Dan Klein is back again with us this year to help hold the Mayor's feet to the fire:

Another $150,000 for police misconduct and no one in Mayor Berry's administration is holding anyone accountable? Who were the officers? Was there an internal affairs investigation? Why not? Will there be retraining? Discipline? Maybe if Mayor Berry would start holding the command staff accountable for the actions of their officers we would get back to having a professional police department. Oh, heck. It's just another $150,000 on top of tens of millions of our tax dollars. I am sure the salary excess from APD being short 300 officers will cover it...I jest.

IT GETS WORSE

Just when you think it can't get any worse, it does. APD interim Chief Allen Banks, who City Hall insiders say Mayor Berry appears ready to appoint permanently, is now playing the dreaded race card:

Banks, the first African-American to lead the department, said the criticism could also be partially racially motivated.“I wouldn’t be surprised if the fact that I’m an African-American chief is being used against me as well,” Banks said.

Is that the odious defense and explanation of ABQ police department actions that we can look forward to hearing in coming years? 

Are we going to lead the police force of a major American city or have a pity party?

Gees, Chief. Thanks for uniting our city and we'll be sure to ask the NAACP for permission before we say anything else about APD. Not.

Meanwhile, the asleep at the switch city council and the quiescent business community--both of which could put heat on Berry and get us out of this mess--sit on their hands.

The body politic of ABQ has abdicated. That's why the US Justice Department is here investigating APD. But with the police problem showing few signs of abating skeptics fear even Justice will not come with the broom that is needed.

Meanwhile, ABQ taxpayers--whether they know it or care--are going to continue to pay millions upon millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements. That will keep the trial lawyers happy, business development continuing to suffer and make it even more difficult attracting quality police cadets. Don't say we didn't tell you....

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