State agency accused of returning children to abusive parents.
After removing four children from the custody of their parents, the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) is facing a second lawsuit for returning them to an abusive home. A whistleblower lawsuit against the state agency was filed by a current employee, Kelly Mazy, and former colleague, Ivy Woodward, with attorney Benjamin Gubernick filing on behalf of the children and their court-appointed guardians.
The federal lawsuit accuses Patricia Garza, a supervisor the agency’s Hobbs office, along with multiple unnamed “John and Jane Doe Defendants [who] are CYFD employees or agents, of violating the children’s civil rights by failing to protect them from their parents.” It also accuses CYFD Secretary Brian Blalock of “participating in applying pressure to an employee who was handling the case.”
Beginning in 2019, according to court documents, Hobbs law enforcement officers discovered Andrei Christian Ducila, 25, and Luiza Badea, 22, begging for money outside of Walmart with their children, ages 3 weeks to 4 years old. Officers determined at that time the minors weren’t being cared for properly and charged the parents with abuse. CYFD took custody, but the children were later returned to the parents.
When a CYFD caseworker visited the family’s apartment on May 2, the family was nowhere to be found and a police report was filed. New Mexico officials received a call in October from police in North Carolina, who were also searching for Ducila and Badea after they left one of their children, a two-year-old daughter, at a hospital with injuries that left her permanently blind.
The U.S. Marshal’s Office eventually located Ducila and Badea, as well as three of their children, in Houston. They are currently being held in custody without bond.
The lawsuit alleges CYFD agents returned the children to their parents despite knowing the couple was unfit in order to save resources, and “obstructed the initial investigation into the family’s disappearance.” According to the federal complaint, “Woodward supervised the family’s initial visits, observed that the parents were plainly incapable of caring for the children and documented this unfitness in reports she submitted to her superiors at CYFD. Garza and others at the department pushed for the children to be returned to their parents despite having actual knowledge that doing so would create substantial risk to the children’s health, safety and well-being.”
“After the family went missing,” the complaint continues, “CYFD actively hindered law enforcement’s efforts to locate Plaintiffs. CYFD prevented the Hobbs Police Department from issuing an Amber Alert by insisting Plaintiffs were not in any danger. CYFD also refused to report Plaintiffs missing, and initially blocked the District Attorney from pressing charges by claiming that CYFD’s custodial rights were not being interfered with. CYFD also withheld documents from Hobbs Police Department investigators that could have allowed the family’s whereabouts to be ascertained.”
“We are committed to being fully transparent and accountable to the public, while at the same time protecting the safety and rights of children and families,” CYFD responded. “However, because federal and state laws designed to protect children’s safety and privacy prohibit the public release of information about such cases, it is common for people to form strong personal opinions based on incomplete – and sometimes selectively disclosed – information. This can lead to situations in which some people or organizations develop a version of a story that is inaccurate while leaving CYFD unable to correct the record.”