City sued in child custody battle

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By David Giuliani

A city police officer removed a child from his mother’s home and transferred custody to his father without any lawful authorization, according to a lawsuit filed against the city last month.

The lawsuit contends that the officer was following a municipal policy that allows officers to remove children from homes without court orders or other “lawful justification.”

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the city, former police Officer Andrea Gutierrez and Angela Duran, a social worker with the state Children, Youth and Families Department. Gutierrez now works as an officer for the Santa Fe police.

The lawsuit was filed Feb. 20 in state District Court in Las Vegas.

According to the lawsuit, Duran and Gutierrez showed up at the house of the plaintiff on Oct. 26, 2006. They said they were responding to a report that the mother was neglecting her son educationally.

The lawsuit contends that the mother, represented by Taos attorney Alan Maestas, showed them documentation that her boy was in a state-certified home-school program.

However, the mother alleges that Duran threatened her into signing a “safety contract” agreeing to transfer the boy to the custody of his paternal grandparents. The state returned him the following day, saying that Duran was without authority to remove him, the lawsuit states.

A few days later, according to the lawsuit, a group of Children, Youth and Families employees and Gutierrez met and decided that there were no grounds to transfer custody of the boy.

Later that same day, Gutierrez showed up at the mother’s house with the father, letting herself in without consent and declaring that she was removing the boy, the lawsuit states.

When the mother asked if Gutierrez had paperwork, the officer allegedly responded, “I don’t need any damned paperwork.”

According to the lawsuit, Gutierrez forcibly removed the child as he cried and pleaded not to be taken away.

The boy was transferred to the custody of his father, even though the father hadn’t had any “ongoing relationship” with the boy and hadn’t seen him in a year, the lawsuit contends.

Gutierrez took such actions because municipal policy authorized her to do so, a policy the plaintiff challenges, the lawsuit alleges. Also, the city failed to properly train its officers for such situations, it states.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Maestas, said he hasn’t seen the policy in writing but that a police official indicated Gutierrez acted within department policy.

The lawsuit contends that the removal of the boy caused psychological injury and emotional distress. The authorities violated the constitutional rights of the plaintiff, the lawsuit contends.

The mother is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

City Attorney Matt Sandoval said such claims are referred to the city’s insurance carrier and that the city doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Gutierrez didn’t return a call for comment left on Monday. Duran’s office she wouldn’t comment on the litigation.