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Judge rules to keep parents jailed in trafficking case

May 15, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico judge ruled Tuesday that the parents of a 7-year-old girl who authorities say was sexually exploited must remain jailed as they await trial in a case that has sent a jolt through the state’s child welfare system.

In her ruling, Judge Alisa Hart cited the seriousness of the allegations to emerge in the hearing that began Friday, including that an Albuquerque Public Schools teacher reported seeing hickeys on the girl, and that the victim reportedly told investigators of how she accompanied her mother to “special parties” where she was left unattended.

The girl’s father is charged with human trafficking, promoting prostitution and other counts. The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office has accused him of prostituting his daughter and forcing her to sexually touch men and women in exchange for drugs, drug paraphernalia and other items.

The mother — who spent much of the hearing wiping away tears — was taken into custody while checked into a treatment facility on charges of child abuse and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Investigators noted in a criminal complaint that she has a mental disability for which her mother said she receives public assistance.

While the mother’s court record shows no prior criminal history, the judge raised concerns that she was “very vulnerable to manipulation and coercion.”

“The state has established probable cause that the defendants have jeopardized the safety of their child,” Hart said.

Court documents indicate the family was homeless and that the girl was forced to panhandle.

The Associated Press, as a matter of policy, isn’t naming the parents to avoid identifying the child, whom authorities have identified as a crime victim. Each of the parents’ attorneys challenged the reliability of investigators’ evidence, and accused Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office of seeking media publicity with the case.

The detention hearing came less than two weeks after the parents’ arrests, and unfolded much like a mini-trial with testimony from multiple witnesses, including law enforcement and school employees.

The girl’s teacher gave emotional testimony about how she reported concerns to Albuquerque police and the state Children, Youth and Families Department that the girl was being neglected and possibly sexually abused.

The girl came to school hungry and tired, and sometimes smelled of cigarette smoke and urine, with clothes so soiled that the teacher couldn’t be certain of their original color, she said.

On occasion, however, the 7-year-old also arrived dressed up, with high heels and makeup.

Court documents filed by prosecutors indicated the couple had been reported to the child welfare agency more than two dozen times over more than a decade.

Four case workers in the agency’s child protective division were placed on paid administrative leave last week amid an internal investigation over what Department Secretary Monique Jacobson described as concerns that the department may not have done enough to protect the girl.

Among that investigations recent findings:

— Safe house interviews weren’t conducted in response to reported concerns about the family.

— Child welfare workers didn’t interview as many people outside the family as they should have.

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