SANTA FE (KRQE) — The New Mexico youth ranch at the center of a child abuse investigation is now facing a new court battle as the family of a boy who died in a car crash at the Tierra Blanca Ranch is suing and claiming he was abused and that his death was the result of carelessness.
Bruce Staeger, 18, is the focus of the lawsuit. Staeger died in a car wreck on the ranch last year. But before his death, the lawsuit claims Staeger was also beaten, restrained and severely punished.
“Bruce’s family just wants to make sure that nothing like this ever happens to any other boys at Tierra Blanca ranch,” said Tim White, attorney for the family of Bruce Staeger.
The lawsuit was filed in Santa Fe District Court on Monday afternoon. In the 20-page filing, one of the paragraphs in the lawsuit claims that Staeger was “beaten, handcuffed and shackled like a member of a southern prison road gang.”
The lawsuit is the latest development against the ranch for troubled teens and the ranch’s owner, Scott Chandler.
In 2013, New Mexico State Police served a state police served a search warrant on the property, while the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department intended to take custody of the teens following several allegations of abuse.
However, the ranch property was found empty. Chandler and the boys then became the focus of a statewide Amber Alert. The alert was canceled two days later when the boys were found safe with their parents and legal guardians.
This new lawsuit filed by the Staeger family makes more abuse claims against the ranch.
“Essentially this staff was allowed to do whatever it was they chose to do to these boys in the name of so called discipline,” said White.
Staeger died in September 2013 after a truck rolled on Tierra Blanca’s ranch property while Staeger was riding in the truck bed. Staeger’s family claims the death was a result of negligence.
The family also claims that the boy suffered before his death.
One of the claims in the lawsuit states that Staeger was “forced to eat horse dung and had jalapeno pepper juice poured into his eyes, in the name of ‘discipline.’ ”
“Scott chandler was personally involved in some of that abuse and to the extent that he wasn’t personally involved, he knew about it. It was being done under his so-called supervision, and that’s the real problem. The reason Bruce got killed is just as much about the fact, about the way that things were let just run a muck on this ranch,” said White.
In the past, Scott Chandler has denied similar allegations.
“They’re baseless and we do not do anything that’s illegal. We have operated in plain view, we have signed agreements with CYFD, people that authorize us to restrain, when needed,” said Chandler.
White says the Staeger family says they will also ask for money as part of this lawsuit but they haven’t set an amount yet. Ultimately, White says the Staeger wants to make sure the ranch has some type of state oversight.
KRQE News 13 spoke to Tierra Blanca Ranch owner Scott Chandler over the phone on Tuesday about the lawsuit. He says he hasn’t gotten a chance to review it yet and declined to comment any further.