RIO ARRIBA COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) – A Rio Arriba County jury awarded an astounding $485 million in a lawsuit. It was filed on behalf of a girl who was repeatedly raped by her foster father, Clarence Garcia.
“I think the message that was sent first and foremost is that this little girl matters,” said Joshua Conaway, an attorney in the case.
In 2019, a court-appointed guardian for the girl filed a lawsuit on her behalf against Clarence Garcia and his wife, Debbie Garcia. Other defendants include national behavioral health care provider, Acadia Healthcare Company Inc., and CEO Joey Jacobs. It also names Acadia’s for-profit subsidiary Youth and Family Centered Services of New Mexico Inc., and the treatment facility Acadia operated called Desert Hills.
The lawsuit also named the non-profit, FamilyWorks, which Desert Hills ran, according to the filing. The lawsuit claimed FamilyWorks placed the 8-year-old in Clarence Garcia’s care while having prior knowledge of him sexually abusing foster kids in his care.
“I think it was an opportunity for a jury and a group of citizens in New Mexico to hold a national, publicly traded corporation accountable for its actions,” said Conaway. CYFD investigated the allegations and revoked Clarence Garcia’s license to be a foster parent.
“They were the ones that come in and said no, no, no, not anymore, not in this state. They shut down FamilyWorks, CYFD did. They shut down Desert Hill, CYFD did that. They ultimately said, ‘Enough is enough. You’re done. We’re not going to tolerate the way you do business in New Mexico,'” said Michael Hart, another attorney for the plaintiff in the lawsuit.
In January, Clarence Garcia pleaded guilty to seven counts of child abuse and avoided jail time. He was ordered to register as a sex offender and sentenced to up to 20 years of probation. At the time, an attorney for one of the victims said the plea agreement was for the best.
“Knowing how hard it is to get a jury to convict on child sex abuse cases, especially when we’re dealing with severance, this plea was very much in the best interest of these kids, so that they wouldn’t have to go through the process of a trial,” said Rebekah Reyes, a prosecutor.
The jury awarded $80 million in compensatory damages for the young girl and a combined $400 million in punitive damages against Acadia Healthcare Company Inc., FamilyWorks, Desert Hills, and Youth and Family Centered Services of New Mexico Inc. The jury also awarded $5 million in punitive damages against Clarence Garcia.
“Our hope always is that tomorrow and the next day and the day after, the world gets a little bit better for every child in foster care,” said Hart. “That every kid knows that they have a right to be heard. They have a right to be believed. They have a right to be protected.”
Garcia is scheduled to be sentenced in August for a probation violation. KRQE reached out to Acadia Healthcare Company Inc. for comment on this verdict; they provided the following statement:
“Our hearts go out to this young girl. What this abuser did was horrible. The victim was not in the direct care of Desert Hills or any facility operated by Acadia but was in a treatment foster care program managed by FamilyWorks – a non-profit organization for whom Desert Hills provided services. The company is evaluating legal options and intends to challenge the verdict as it relates to the company.”Acadia Healthcare