New Mexico youth ranch agrees to state oversight

February 22, 2014 • State News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A central New Mexico ranch for troubled youth has settled its lawsuit against the state, agreeing [auth] to some oversight.

Tierra Blanca Ranch High County Youth Program sued the state last year, challenging the state’s investigation of its program and a high-profile October raid that sought custody of nine minors.

Under the agreement signed Friday, the ranch has agreed to give the Children Youth and Families Department access to students and their files for the next 12 months.

The ranch also agrees not to use restraints and to supervise teens placed in segregation.

Both sides claimed victory.

Ranch operator Scott Chandler said the agreement provides a management structure without complex regulations like those the agency sought during the just-ended legislative session.

“The settlement demonstrates we can apply a simple, common sense, standard to the pertinent issues and arrive at an understanding,” he said in a statement, noting the agreement came “at an exceedingly heavy price. Getting to this point has taken an enormous toll on people’s lives and taxpayer’s resources.”

CYFD spokesman Henry Varela said it gives the agency access to the kids until it can try again next year to pass a law regulating such programs.

“This is a big victory for us,” he said, noting that under current law the agency has no authority to contact kids in such unregulated programs investigating specific and current allegations of abuse.

“It’s a good way, if they are going to continue to operate, for us to have some kind of oversight until it can be addressed by the Legislature,” he said.

The settlement has no effect on a criminal investigation of the ranch, Varela said. That investigation by state police has been turned over to the Sierra County district attorney, he said.

State police in October served a search warrant on the ranch to investigate allegations of abuse, including claims that teens were shackled for months at a time.

No one was there when they arrived, sparking a high profile Amber Alert.

The children, who Chandler said had been on a previously scheduled camping trip, were all found safe with their parents.

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