ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – While a 14-year-old Volcano Vista High School student is now facing charges for allegedly taking a gun to school, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez has a lot of questions about why the student was not arrested when he was caught with a loaded gun on campus. In May, a student reported that a classmate was in the parking lot of Volcano Vista with a firearm. When an Albuquerque Police Department officer went to check it out, the student got out of the SUV and left his backpack inside.

The officer says the teen kept trying to get back into the SUV. School officials then took the backpack and found a loaded ghost gun inside. The officer then called the state’s Juvenile Probation/Parole Office for guidance on if the student should be arrested. It’s a 4th-degree felony to bring a firearm to a school campus. “Astonishingly, the officer who arrested this teenager contacted JPPL, which they’re required to do under the Criminal, under the children’s code, and ask for authorization to detain this young person and they were denied,” said Raúl Torrez, Bernalillo County DA.

The New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department says it uses a risk assessment instrument which is required by state law and a nationally validated tool that guides the decision about whether CYFD authorizes the detention of children. It considers a variety of things such as the level of the offense, violence levels, and arrest history. In this case, they found the student to be a Level 3 “low risk” and was released to a guardian.

The DA’s office says the student thanked the officer for not letting him get into the SUV, saying it would have been bad. Torrez says he isn’t sure where the teen went after the police officer released him to his guardian or if there were any guns around.

Torrez has sent letters to the CYFD Secretary and APD Police Chief saying its time to make changes. Torrez is running for attorney general but says he has been pushing for change for a while.

CYFD sent this statement to KRQE News 13:

We share District Attorney Torrez’s concerns around the safety of children in our schools and communities. We will continue working with law enforcement agencies to ensure that practices, policies and procedures protect New Mexico’s children and their communities.

The Risk Assessment Instrument is a nationally validated tool that guides the decision about whether CYFD authorizes detention of a youth.

A risk assessment is required by state law (NMSA 1978, 32A-2-11) before a youth can be detained.

It considers a wide variety of circumstances, such as offense levels, arrest histories, aggravating factors and violence levels. It balances those against any mitigating factors, such as the youth’s alleged level of involvement in the incident.

The tool provides a risk assessment about detention, not a determination about whether a youth should be charged or arrested.

Even if the tool’s objective score indicates that a youth should not be detained initially, it does not preclude further investigation or a formal charge if the circumstances and evidence warrant it.

Charlie Moore-Pabst, CYFD Spokesperson