SOCORRO, N.M. (KRQE) – Things got heated last year between the governor’s office and a youth ranch for troubled teens and on Wednesday, both sides went to court.
A judge is considering if a civil lawsuit filed by the ranch last year against the state’s Children, Youth and Families Department will be allowed to go forward.
The attorneys for both sides were in court in Socorro on Wednesday, as well as Scott Chandler, the owner of Tierra Blanca Ranch, who was not present during the last hearing in October.
In early October, the Tierra Blanca Ranch High Country Youth Program in southern New Mexico and Chandler filed a lawsuit amid allegations of abuse and an investigation by the state.
Just days later, State Police served a search warrant at the ranch with a judge’s order to take the teens who lived there. When police arrived, they didn’t find the boys.
Police issued an Amber Alert and Chandler was identified as a person of interest by police. The attorney representing the ranch maintained that each of the boys was being dropped off personally to their guardians.
In court Wednesday, Tim Flynn O’Brien, an attorney representing CYFD, said the state has already made findings of abuse or neglect by Chandler.
Tierra Blanca Ranch initially sued the state hoping to bring the abuse investigation to a halt. The lawsuit alleged CYFD’s investigation was biased and claimed staff didn’t follow rules for investigating abuse and neglect claims.
Now the attorney representing Tierra Blanca Ranch says they hope Chandler and the youth program be found in the right for their actions last fall, and that by letting the case fester has harmed the boys and program they say help them.
“Once these children are out of our program for four months or six months, or eight months, one’s already been arrested, all of them have lost ground in school. So there is irreparable harm by a delay in this matter,” said Pete Domenici Jr., attorney for the ranch.
Domenici wants the civil suit to go to trial, but the attorney representing the state recently filed a motion to have the lawsuit dismissed altogether.
As of now, the case is set to go to jury trial on June 23 in Sierra County, which has been rescheduled from its initial date in March.
State Police say they’ve completed their criminal investigation and have forwarded it to the District Attorney’s Office.