ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - New Mexico State Police are standing behind their use of an Amber Alert for nine boys they expected to find when officers and social workers raided a youth ranch for troubled teens.
Late Sunday State Police canceled the alert saying they had confirmed the last of the boys were safe with parents or guardians.
"Just the circumstances surrounding the way that they went missing from the ranch raised flags with us and was of great concern," Sgt. Emmanuel Gutierrez said during a news conference. "It had to take out-of-state sources to assist us in this matter and our agents throughout the state to help us work on this matter."
Gutierrez declined to say where the boys were located and who was with them.
Five of the boys were confirmed to be with parents Saturday night about 24 hours after State Police issued the Amber Alert. The alert described the disappearance of the boys age 13-17 as an abduction and named as a "person of interest" ranch owner Scott Chandler, who has been in a legal battle with the state over allegations of abuse by some boys.
Authorities overreacted, attorney says
Chandler's attorney, Pete Domenici Jr., said the boys sought by police were never in danger and were on a planned field trip when officers and social workers showed up at the Tierra Blanca Ranch Friday morning with a search warrant and court orders to take custody of the boys
Domenici said he blames police and the state Children, Youth and Families Department for the Amber Alert foulup.
"Even though there were many communications through the courts, filing by myself, emails--and I haven't chosen to bring out my email traffic--but I have emails reaching out to them, and they chose to handle it this way,” Domenici said.
Domenici also said State Police threatened one parent who called about their missing child who was with the parent.
“Threatened with obstruction of justice instead of identifying and confirming that child was safe,” Domenici said.
“These children are currently and have been with their parents for days if not many, many hours, and the state utterly refused to set up a system that welcomed these parents.
"They created a situation of distrust with these parents by their communication over the last few weeks. They continued that with the way they've handled communications under this Amber Alert."
Gutierrez responded to the allegations saying, "I think those are unconfirmed at this moment.”
"I don't want to be playing too much of this game between State Police and the party representing this ranch," he continued. "What's important, and let's keep it at hand, is that these children, their well-being, has been checked on.
"They're with a guardian, and this investigation will be progressing towards looking into these allegations of abuse."
Police wouldn't comment on whether they've spoken with Chandler but during the Sunday night news conference encouraged him to “get in touch” with police. So far, no one has been arrested or charged in the case.
Abuse claims launched investigation
Chandler and his ranch near Hillsboro in southwestern Sierra County have been under investigation by State Police and the CYFD since several boys claimed they had been beaten and shackled.
Late Saturday Chandler issued a statement through his attorney, his first public comment since Thursday when he and Domenici announced they had filed suit against the state claiming improprieties in its handling of the investigation.
"Let it be known that all the youth in question have been safely and successfully returned to their parents by the TBR," Domenici read.
The cascading events and conflicting claims began with the raid early Friday, later involved Gov. Susana Martinez holding a news conference about the boys' apparent disappearance and then Domenici saying the boys had gone on the field trip and were either with their parents or waiting for them.
About an hour after Domenici's statement, State Police issued the Amber Alert.
State Police said they've had reports of abuse related to the ranch dating back to 2005.
"There's just so many reasons and questions that could come up, and the only way to really confirm is to finish this investigation and talk to all who are involved," Gutierrez said. "Our main priority and our main goal is the safety of these children, so we're going to utilize whatever means necessary to get our point across and to actively investigate this."
Domenici met with reporters late Saturday night saying all of teens have been with their parents for some time and that parents are trying to get their children off of the alert.
"I'm hearing statements from state representatives, officials, that they are concerned about the safety of those children," said Domenici. "If that is true, why have they not reached out and accommodated these parents to get the information they need and get those children off the Amber list?"
Domenici said the teens' parents have tried to cooperate with state officials and claimed the state has not made it easy for them. The lawsuit filed last week alleged parents have been verbally bullied and threatened by CYFD representatives.
Saturday night, State Police said other parents had contacted state officials.
Bryce Hall, 17, Mayson Myers, 13, Peter Adams, 16, Oscar Ruiz, 17, and Evan Kogler, 16, were removed from the Amber Alert Saturday night. Police dropped Ryan Sibbett, 16 and Michael Rozell, 15, Charlie Lamb, 13, and David Easter, 17, Sunday afternoon and canceled the alert.
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