Mayor Tim Keller says he wishes his officers could have done more in the case of a 7-year-old girl allegedly forced into prostitution by her parents.
Thursday night, the Albuquerque Police Department released videos of one interaction officers had with the girl and her family in November.
The mayor says he also reviewed the videos Thursday for the first time, and says while some people may be angry by the officer’s response, police followed protocol.
Albuquerque Police officers had a handful of run-ins with Teri Sanchez and James Stewart over the past five years; but in November officers were dispatched to the Ambassador Inn off Candelaria and I-25 to check up on the couple’s two kids who weren’t in school that day.
The two are accused of abusing and forcing their 7-year-old into prostitution. That day at the motel, officers were also there because of an incident the day before where the girl’s teacher found dried blood in the 7-year-old’s underwear.
During the officer’s visit, Stewart woke his daughter up so the officer could talk with her.
Officer: “You didn’t hurt yourself or anything like that?”
Officer: “You didn’t fall down playing or anything like that?”
Sanchez: “We don’t let them play outside around here too much.”
The officer then asked if he could speak to the girl out in the hallway alone. The two talked for almost three minutes.
Officer: “Do you feel okay here with your mom and dad? They treat you good? Yeah?”
Before the officer left, Sanchez scoffed at how other parents abuse their own children.
Sanchez: “I look at us as parents and I look at my kids and I think, ‘How could anyone do that to their child?'”
The officer went to the girl’s school the same day and spoke with the teacher who called police. That teacher testified in court this week saying she was alarmed at how police and CYFD handled the case.
Teacher: “I don’t know who else I can reach out to, who else other than CYFD and the police officers can help save.”
She says the officer told her since the girl’s underwear had not been kept in a secure location, they couldn’t take them as evidence and threw them out in a dumpster.
Thursday, Mayor Tim Keller defended his officers in the case.
“It is absolutely painful for anyone to think about how this could have happened and to those kind of interactions, but from our officer’s end, they I believe with the information they had and the information I received, they seemed to have followed procedure.,” he said.
The mayor says while the case remains an open investigation, APD is looking to see if any policies need changing.
Until then, “If there is nothing that an officer did wrong, I’m not going to discipline them just because people are angry,” Mayor Keller said.
The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department also had run-ins with the family.
In 2016, deputies were called after both parents left the kids with a neighbor, who is accused of inappropriately touching them.
Since 2004, CYFD met with Sanchez a staggering 21 times and 14 times with Stewart.
The agency has placed four employees in connection with the case on paid leave.