VALENCIA COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s been three years since the death of an 11-month old Valencia County baby. Now, the family says it is still trying to find justice for the little girl.
It was December 2017 when Ariza Barreras was found dead inside the home of Stephanie Crownover, her foster parent. The Office of the Medical Investigator said the 11-month old died from pneumonia, which may have been because of the terrible conditions inside the home.
Three years later, Crownover’s three counts of child abuse charges were dismissed. The family had no choice but to file a civil lawsuit in hopes of getting justice.
Attorney Bryan Williams represents Ariza’s family and says their quest for closure continues to get delayed because of New Mexico’s current laws around qualified immunity, that protect certain government officials from lawsuits like this. In this case, Williams says the social workers with the New Mexico Children, Youth, & Families Department involved in Ariza’s case should be responsible. “That stops all discovery. It stops progress and it stops closure for the family,” he says.
That’s why Williams is hoping the Civil Rights Bill passes during this upcoming legislative session, to possibly negate qualified immunity to the social workers. “Stop the delay games, keep us from being three years out and still filing and still dealing with the delay games,” he says.
However, the Civil Rights Bill has its critics. “It needs to have some limits. We have very small communities. We have small towns, small counties with very little population. They could not afford a multi-million dollar lawsuit,” says Senator Steve Neville (R-Aztec).
Senator Neville says he doesn’t completely oppose the bill but wants to be able to fine-tune it. He also has a stance on qualified immunity. “Qualified immunity is not the big bad wolf that everybody says it is. There have been injustices, and this is one of them,” he says.
As for the lawsuit against the state and CYFD, Williams says a federal judge denied the state’s request to have the case dropped, citing qualified immunity. The state has appealed that denial and now they are waiting for a judge’s ruling.
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