Lawsuit advances after raid on New Mexico youth program
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The owner of a ranch for troubled youth said Monday a lawsuit seeking compensation for damages from a New Mexico State Police raid cleared a crucial hurdle earlier this month when a federal judge refused to dismiss the case.
U.S. District Court Judge Christina Armijo said the lawsuit raises valid questions about to whether police may have violated constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures when they accessed the ranch near Hillsboro in September 2013.
The Albuquerque-based judge dismissed accusations of malicious prosecution, noting that the state never brought charges against the Tierra Blanca Ranch or its owners in connection with the September 2013 visit to by police and state social-services staff to interview youths. The raid was in response to concerns about possible abuse or neglect.
Tierra Blanca Ranch owner Scott Chandler, his wife Colette Chandler and a former participant in the youth program at Tierra Blanca allege that state police led by agent Felipe Gonzales used deceit and intimidation to access the ranch. The Chandlers say their reputation and business suffered.
State Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Attorneys for Gonzales argued in court filings that he provided advanced warning and obtained consent before entering the ranch, and that Gonzales’ work as a police agent makes him immune from prosecution for civil damages.
The raid took place weeks after the death of an 18-year-old attending the ranch program when a pickup truck driven by a staff member overturned.
Earlier this year, the Chandlers reached an undisclosed financial settlement with the state in a separate defamation lawsuit. That suit alleged that the Chandlers’ reputation was damaged when they were removed from a campaign event for New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez at a Deming motel in 2014.