New Mexico Jury Awards $485 Million to Eight Year Old Sex Abuse Survivor

Published: August 7th, 2023

By: Andy Goldwasser

New Mexico Jury Awards $485 Million to Eight Year Old Survivor

The foster care system has failed an eight-year-old New Mexico girl, and will finally pay the price. $485 million in damages has been awarded by a Rio Arriba County jury in the civil case against Clarence Garcia, the 66-year-old foster parent assigned to the young girl.

Allegedly, the treatment foster care program placed the child in Garcia’s home knowing that he was previously accused of sexual assault. He pleaded guilty in January to seven counts of criminal sexual contact with a minor, and was accused of sexually abusing six children under his care within six years.

The verdict came after almost two weeks of deliberation and testimony. Defendants such as Acadia Healthcare Inc., a top U.S. healthcare corporation, fought allegations of corporate negligence. The company was responsible for a now inoperable licensed residential treatment facility named Desert Hills. The mission of their treatment was to provide support for children with behavior issues and developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Desert Hills partnered with Familyworks, a nonprofit company licensed by New Mexico state’s Children, Youth and Families department to “license, train and support treatment foster parents.”

The case, just one of many lawsuits arising from sexual abuse within the foster case system, stated that Familyworks assigned the 8-year-old girl to the home of Garcia and his wife. The company had ample knowledge of Garcia’s predatory past: they received reports that he was sexually abusing other foster children before the young girl was placed in his care.

Familyworks cites “unqualified employees, understaff[ing], [and failure] to follow or enforce policies and procedures” as key components in the abuse of the eight-year-old survivor.

After deliberation, the jury settled on $80 million in compensatory damages. The Youth and Family Centered Services and Familyworks are required to pay $75 million in punitive damages, with $5 million in punitive damages awarded against Clarence Garcia.

Under New Mexico law, children must testify against their alleged abusers in all sexual abuse cases. Because of the delicate nature of the young survivors’ mental states and trauma histories, the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office offered Garcia a plea agreement in January to avoid the possibility of testimonial during multiple trials.

Four months after Garcia entered a plea in his case, he allegedly violated probation conditions. The 66-year-old’s property was searched, and what officers found was shocking. Bags of children’s stuffed animals, a yoga book with “young children in suggestive poses,” various weapons, and firearm accessories were among the items in his possession. On April 13, Garcia was arrested.

A spokesman for Acadia Healthcare condemned Garcia’s behavior. “Our hearts go out to this young girl. What this abuser did was horrible.”