Household backs Civil Rights Invoice in hopes of discovering justice for child killed in CYFD custody

VALENCIA COUNTY, NM (KRQE) – An 11-month-old baby from Valencia County died three years ago. Now the family says they are still trying to find justice for the little girl.

It was December 2017 when Ariza Barreras was found dead in the home of Stephanie Crownover, her foster parent. OMI said the 11-month-old died of pneumonia, possibly due to the dire conditions in the house.

False death lawsuit names CYFD, foster parents

Three years later, Crownover’s three child molestation charges were dismissed. The family had no choice but to file a civil lawsuit in hopes of obtaining justice.

Attorney Bryan Williams represents Ariza’s family and says their pursuit of closure has continued to be delayed due to current New Mexico laws regarding qualified immunity, which protect certain government officials from such lawsuits. In that case, Williams says, the social workers with CYFD who are involved in Ariza’s case should be responsible. “That stops any discovery. It stops progress and closure for the family, ”he says.

Because of this, Williams is hoping the civil rights bill will be passed during this upcoming legislature, potentially negating qualified immunity to social workers. “Stop the lag games, keep us from being three years out and still submitting and editing the lag games,” he says.

The civil rights law, however, has its critics. “It must have some limits. We have very small communities. We have small towns, small counties with very few populations. They couldn’t afford a multi-million dollar lawsuit, ”said Senator Steve Neville (R-Aztec).

Senator Neville says he doesn’t completely oppose the bill, but wants to be able to refine it. He also has an attitude towards qualified immunity. “Qualified immunity isn’t the big bad wolf everyone says it is. There have been injustices and this is one of them, ”he says.

Regarding the lawsuit against the state and CYFD, Williams said a federal judge denied the state’s motion to terminate the case, citing qualified immunity. The state has appealed against this refusal and is now waiting for a judge’s decision.

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