Wrongful death lawsuit outlines horrific life events in James Dunklee case

Albuquerque News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It was a short, sad, and painful life for four-year-old James Dunklee Cruz. A wrongful death lawsuit against New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department claim he lived a life of horrific neglect, physical and sexual abuse before his death in 2019.


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A lawsuit details a heartbreaking four years of life for James Dunklee Cruz. Just a day after he was born in 2015, the lawsuit states CYFD already received a report he was being emotionally abused by his mother, Krista Cruz. When he was a few months old, the lawsuit states a CYFD investigation found the home James lived in was unbearable; covered in dog feces, trash, and roaches.

The lawsuit goes on to claim when he was three, the Albuquerque Police Department and CYFD found him living barricaded in his room and bruised and when he was four, APD and CYFD were called again, finding James was bruised and not potty trained. James would tell police his mother’s boyfriend was hitting him.

Two months before his death, police, and CYFD were called to an urgent care. James had multiple bruises and injured genitals. CYFD was alerted the little boy had claimed another one of his mother’s boyfriends was touching him inappropriately.

“CYFD time after time after time, referral after referral failed to take custody of James,” said Sara Crecca with the Law Firm of Alexander D. Crecca, P.C. Attorneys said CYFD would place James with different family members but his mother would just take James back from their homes. In December 2019, police said James was beaten to death by his mother’s roommate, Zerrick Marquez.

“He would’ve been alive today if CYFD would’ve done their duty and obligation to this child,” said Rachel Berenson with Berenson & Associates, P.C. The wrongful death lawsuit claims from hospital staff to family members, there were at least ten separate referrals alleging James wasn’t safe.

“How many more kids have to die before we get actual reform at the investigative level to prevent atrocities like this?” said Crecca. “This is an atrocious case. This child should be alive.”

James’ mother has not been charged for his death. CYFD said they haven’t seen the lawsuit and they will not comment on pending litigation.

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