De­ci­sion on un­der­wear ques­tioned

Teacher says APD of­fi­cer tossed 7-year-old’s bloody un­der­gar­ment

Albuquerque Journal - - FRONT PAGE - BY ELISE KAPLAN JOUR­NAL STAFF WRITER

Among the most dis­turb­ing tes­ti­mony dur­ing the three-day de­ten­tion hear­ing for James Ste­wart and Teri Sanchez was a teacher’s state­ment re­gard­ing how an Al­bu­querque po­lice of­fi­cer dealt with a piece of cloth­ing the teacher had re­moved from her 7-year-old stu­dent and saved for in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

On Nov. 14, 2017, of­fi­cials say the girl came to school un­kempt and smelling of urine and when her teacher helped her change into clean clothes she saw the

girl had blood on the crotch of her un­der­wear.

But, the teacher tes­ti­fied in the hear­ing Mon­day, when a po­lice of­fi­cer came to the school the fol­low­ing day he said they could not use the un­der­wear as ev­i­dence and threw the cloth­ing in the dump­ster.

She said the of­fi­cer told her the un­der­wear had not been kept in a se­cure lo­ca­tion and that “they’re go­ing to have a field day if this ever went to court.”

On Tues­day, Al­bu­querque po­lice failed to an­swer re­peated re­quests for in­ter­views or in­for­ma­tion about that of­fi­cer’s ac­tions. They pre­vi­ously had said that the child never men­tioned pos­si­ble sex­ual abuse when in­ter­viewed by of­fi­cers, but their re­ports never men­tioned the fact that an of­fi­cer had been shown the un­der­wear and de­cided to toss it.

A safe­house foren­sic in­ter­view was not done at the time de­spite the teacher’s re­port and the ap­par­ent ev­i­dence. The teacher de­scribed the un­der­wear by say­ing “half of the crotch area would be sat­u­rated” in blood.

On Mon­day, the Chil­dren, Youth and Fam­i­lies De­part­ment Sec­re­tary Monique Ja­cob­son faulted her own peo­ple for not in­sist­ing on a safe­house foren­sic in­ter­view when they were told about the un­der­wear. She said po­lice usu­ally take the lead in set­ting up such an in­ter­view. But since APD did not fol­low through, her staff should have.

CYFD re­leased the re­sults of its in­ves­ti­ga­tion Mon­day that found fault with some of its em­ploy­ees for fail­ing to fol­low all pro­ce­dures.

In a printed state­ment, Mayor Tim Keller said, “It is clear the sys­tem failed this lit­tle girl. At APD we are con­duct­ing a re­view of the case and will pur­sue ac­count­abil­ity mea­sures when the re­view is com­pleted. In ad­di­tion, many of the poli­cies in this area are sev­eral years old and I ex­pect to be cor­rect­ing them as part of this process.”

In­ci­dent trou­bling

For the ele­men­tary school teach­ers and staff who re­peat­edly called APD and CYFD with con­cerns about the 7-year-old girl who agents say was traf­ficked for sex, the in­ci­dent in Novem­ber was par­tic­u­larly trou­bling.

At the de­ten­tion hear­ing for Ste­wart and Sanchez, both charged with crimes against the 7-year-old, school of­fi­cials have made it clear that they don’t be­lieve APD and CYFD did enough to help the girl and her two brothers ear­lier.

On Tues­day, APD spokesman Gil­bert Gal­le­gos said he would get back to the Jour­nal but had not done so by dead­line.

APD also has failed to an­swer ques­tions emailed last week about the case, in­clud­ing ques­tions about whether APD should have set up a safe­house foren­sic in­ter­view to in­ves­ti­gate the Novem­ber in­ci­dent.

Gal­le­gos re­sponded in a state­ment last week that “the Crimes Against Chil­dren Unit were fully en­gaged and de­ter­mined they could not pur­sue a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion with­out dis­clo­sures of abuse.”

It re­mains un­clear whether a CACU de­tec­tive talked to the school of­fi­cials who found the bloody un­der­wear or whether de­tec­tives were in­volved in the de­ci­sion to throw them out.

An in­ci­dent re­port filed in the case re­counts the ac­tions of the uni­formed of­fi­cer who con­ducted a wel­fare check and talked to school of­fi­cials. The re­port says the of­fi­cer was told about the un­der­wear, but does not men­tion the fact that the teacher saved it or that an of­fi­cer tossed it.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port on Nov. 15, a uni­formed APD of­fi­cer and a CYFD in­ves­ti­ga­tor went to the Am­bas­sador Inn on Can­de­laria for a wel­fare check be­cause of the teacher’s con­cerns, in­clud­ing the fact that the girl and her 8-year-old brother had not shown up at school that day.

“School staff stated they were con­cerned for the chil­dren’s well be­ing and also stated a staff mem­ber of the school no­ticed blood on the girl’s un­der­wear yes­ter­day af­ter she had an ac­ci­dent at school,” the of­fi­cer wrote in the re­port.

The of­fi­cer then de­tails an in­ter­view with the teacher in which he says the teacher told him she did not ask the girl how the blood got on her un­der­wear. That is the only men­tion of the un­der­wear in the re­port.

There is no men­tion in the re­port of whether the of­fi­cer asked the child, Ste­wart or Sanchez about the un­der­wear.

When asked about whether the At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice thinks APD had acted prop­erly, spokesman James Hal­li­nan wrote in an emailed state­ment that it would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate to com­ment be­yond the spe­cific facts in the case that are pub­lic record.

But, he said, “It is crit­i­cal in all in­ves­ti­ga­tions in­volv­ing crimes against chil­dren that any law en­force­ment agency act quickly and fol­low strict pro­to­cols to col­lect ev­i­dence, pre­serve state­ments and con­duct safe house in­ter­views and phys­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tions where war­ranted.”

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