ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — State officials are investigating reports that teenage boys living at a ranch for troubled youth in Sierra County were physically ab used, a newspaper reported Saturday.
Investigators are looking into reports that boys were beaten by a former staff member and forced to wear leg shackles and handcuffs for minor infractions of ranch rules, the Albuquerque Journal reported (http://bit.ly/GEaIHk ).
The $80-per-day program is run from the 30,000-acre Tierra Blanca Ranch north of Las Cruces near Hillsboro and caters to parents who can’t deal with their children’s drug use or other behaviors.
State police Sgt. Emmanuel Gutierrez and general counsel Jennifer Saavedra of the Children, Youth and Families Department have confirmed the investigation.
A statement from ranch owner Scott Chandler said he is “proud of its success in serving families and their at-risk children over the years.”
“While at TBR, most youth get on track to successful and rewarding lives outside the ranch,” the statement said.
According to state police reports, program participants said they saw one teen beaten by an employee while the boy was shackled after he had been forced to run all day. Other police reports say employees had groups of teenage residents beat another resident for being uncooperative.
Officers called to the ranch on at least one occasion found a boy in shackles. He had escaped and called state police on a telephone he had taken from the ranch. Officers returned the boy to the ranch and had to serve a search warrant later to retrieve him at his mother’s request.
Pegasus Legal Services for Children and parents of some teenagers placed in the program began asking for an investigation into the ranch earlier this year, claiming the program appeared to violate fundamental rights of the teenagers staying there.
In a series of letters, Pegasus executive director Elizabeth McGrath urged CYFD Secretary Yolanda Deines to open an investigation into the program.
The ranch has been on state child welfare agency’s radar since 2006, but the agency has taken no action. The agency determined in 2006 or 2007 that the ranch was a wilderness program and therefore not subject to licensing requirements.