Prosecution suspended for NM teacher charged with helping former student break law

Crime

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The case against a New Mexico teacher charged with harboring a felon, who is a former student, could get dropped, but it’s not because of lack of evidence. In October, police arrested the local charter school teacher for helping a former student, with whom she is in a relationship, break the law, and for trying to cover up the evidence. Despite the charges, she may still be able to teach at New Mexico schools.

Denise Romero, 45, may not be prosecuted after investigators said she helped her former student whom she was in a relationship with, 20-year-old Jeremy Garcia, escape from CYFD’s custody. He was supposed to return to Eagle Nest Reintegration Center after work.

“He left the worksite and never came back,” Officer Dusty Francisco with New Mexico State Police told KRQE in October 2020. According to court records, Garcia left the worksite in a black SUV, matching that of Romero’s. She also allegedly tried to cover up evidence by deleting messages on her phone before handing it over to police.

Instead of prosecution for the charges, court documents show Romero has been accepted into a diversion program which may include community service, fees, and staying out of trouble. If she follows the program her charges would be dropped. Prosecutors are on board with the move.

“What type of offense is it? Is it a crime of violence? This one wasn’t. Again, early intervention, accountability, and cooperation. Criminal history is a major component of that. Which in this case there was none. We have a 45-year-old defendant who was charged with this event and within a month was able to say I want to make right by this. Those kind of checklist items all qualified her for this program,” said Marcus Montoya, the District Attorney for Taos, Colfax, and Union Counties.

Romero was teaching at Mission Achievement and Success Charter School at the time of her arrest, according to state police and the school. Before that, she was teaching at a juvenile detention center, where she taught Garcia. If Romero follows the program and charges get dropped, she could continue teaching in New Mexico.

According to the state education department, Romero’s file is under investigation. So, any school she applies to will be notified of her alleged criminal activity. But, the state education department said it only makes schools aware of her background, whether or not Romero is hired is up to a district, school, or charter school. KRQE News 13 asked Montoya if that was a concern.

“Based on the criminality of these charges. It’s, it’s nothing that I’m concerned would impede her ability to be a good educator. I don’t know at all if she was or wasn’t a good educator,” he said. “Because of criminal history, because of the offense, because of her age, because of her early interest in being cooperative and accountable…that’s how we treat these types of cases. So, it’s not because she’s a teacher or a doctor or they’re even a lawyer, we try to treat similarly-situated defendants similar.”

The charter school Romero was working for at the time of her arrest said she does not work there anymore. KRQE News 13 reached out to Romero’s defense team for comment but did not hear back. It’s unclear when Romero and Garcia started their romantic relationship. But, court documents show state police had investigated Romero in the past for a possible inappropriate relationship with Garcia while he was her student at Camino Nuevo Correctional Facility.

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