Dennis Kintigh spoke about the difficulties of child abuse cases from a law enforcement perspective. As an FBI agent, one-time interim Roswell Police Department chief and detective for Chaves County Sheriff’s Office, he has a broad base of knowledge. It was during his tenure at the SO that he found the abuse of little children most distressing. “That’s not a strong enough word. Words cannot describe what it is like to see these things. You think you are strong and can deal with it.”
Recently, Kintigh had been called to the two separate investigations of possible child abuse — one where a 19-month-old child was found dead and a second where a girl was found caged a room. “I’ve been in law enforcement for 30 years and abuse of child is the most shocking and disturbing of all cases we handle,” he said.
He described the conditions of the 19-month-old child who died. The Office of the Medical Investigator ruled the baby died of natural causes and he does not argue with their ruling, but found the conditions under which the child was found deplorable. “We were told that the 19-month-old was developmentally disabled, [auth] could not sit up and had to be fed through a tube; but the house was so filthy that after the investigation, I had to go home and wash the bottom of my shoes in Lysol.”
He believes that the laws are inadequate. Descriptions of filth are not unique. In a recent Appellate Court decision, State of New Mexico vs. Samantha Garcia, the apartment where a child was found outside wandering in a busy parking lot at 3 a.m, was described as having open vodka bottles, beer cans and vomit on the floor. In addition, the state noted that a stub from a marijuana cigarette and a pipe were found on a dining room table and a pocket knife was located in easy reach. Allegedly, the mother was drunk and difficult to rouse. The jury found the mother guilty.
Their verdict was overturned by the Appellate Court. Two of three judges ruled that the State failed to prove intent with the charges of reckless endangerment. The third disagreed.
“This is appalling,“ said Kintigh. “This kind of logic would result in drunk drivers being set free because they hadn’t intended to hurt people when they got drunk. The mother consciously chose to consume alcohol and drugs knowing that she had a 2-year-old child in her care. No one put a gun to her head.”
In the Garcia case, the Appellate Court did not specifically address the filth of the home, following a previous ruling that said poverty and filth were not enough reason for charges of abuse. Kintigh does not agree. In the case of the 19-month-old he said. “There was no food in the refrigerator. We’re literally wading in filth. … We are talking about children not having a clean bed to sleep in, no sheets on the bed and no clean sheets in the house.”
Kintigh noted the state lacks foster parents to fulfill the needs of children who are temporarily removed from their homes. He argues that sometimes parents may not be the best alternative, especially when there are other options, other relations such as grandparents. “The concern in law enforcement is we just put children back in the same environment where their safety and health are jeopardized,” Kintigh said.
Kintigh said child abuse was not unique to Roswell but a problem found throughout New Mexico and nationwide. However, in 2010, New Mexico ranked second in the country in terms of fatalities that resulted from child abuse.
He referred to a 2006 case from Espanola where a 2-year-old girl was raped and left permanently damaged. The 17-year-old father, Tyrone Portis, was sentenced to 32 years. The sentence was suspended and Portis received five years of probation, which was eventually revoked. “That’s when I decided we’re not doing well for our children. We don’t treat those who hurt children seriously,” Kintigh said.
“We surround the parents with services, but it doesn’t work. The 19-month-old was getting care. The family received other services. It was not enough. In situations like that I wish we had a grand jury to subpoena witnesses. The beauty of the grand jury system is it is an investigative body.”
For Kintigh, potential solutions come from parenting classes, a change in laws and better financing for child services.
He believes that the parents classes should be mandatory. “Arrestees and minors with children should also be required to take these classes, since early pregnancy and minor offenses are usually indicative of being irresponsible.”