Posted at: 10/10/2013 10:33 PM
Updated at: 10/11/2013 9:38 AM
By: Chris Ramirez, KOB Eyewitness News 4
Reporter's Notebook: Problems, concerns, and dysfunction in New Mexico come across a reporter's desk every day. We often make decisions about how to cover these stories with initially very little information.
When the story about Tierra Blanca Ranch hit my desk, all I knew at the time was that a teenaged boy, Bruce, had died in a truck rollover on the ranch land. My News Director asked that I look into Tierra Blanca Ranch to see if there is anything more to the story…and I'm so glad I listened.
Within hours of taking the assignment, I had built case files with hundreds of pages of documents of allegations in police reports and state documents that showed a pattern of complaints alleging rampant abuse at Tierra Blanca Ranch. At least a dozen boys interviewed at different times by different investigators said they were forced into child slavery by tending the 30,000 acre ranch owned by Scott Chandler. They told stories of working outside for up to 15 hours a day in grueling conditions, sometimes in extreme temperatures. They said they were punished by excessive exercises, food deprivation, threats of castration, and brutal beatings. In a police report, one teen described being forced by a staff member to put rocks and sand in a sock and beat his friend. The boys also described what they called a "firewall." When a teen is "firewalled," he's not allowed to talk to other people or be spoken to, which as you can imagine creates a very lonely existence.
It's important that we question why a man who admits he and his staff have no professional training to work with at-risk kids is taking in dozens of teens with serious behavioral health issues. It's also important that we question what our state agencies have done about these allegations.
The story of Tierra Blanca Ranch represents why investigative journalism is so important. This story gives a voice to teens who once thought nobody would listen to them. Investigative journalism allows us to expose wrongdoing and hold those who we entrust with protecting our children accountable.
I know there are parents and perhaps former or current teens who will contact me and profess Tierra Blanca Ranch sincerely helped them through troubled times. These same people may chastise me for aggressively getting answers about what’s going on here. Let me be clear about something. When children claim they were abused while in the care of someone else, I will ask every question necessary to understand the full scope of the truth. To ignore something like that not only goes against the ethics I hold as a journalist, but goes against every part of my soul.
The pressure is on the New Mexico State Police and the NM Children’s Youth and Families Department to carefully investigate these claims and take appropriate action based on what they find. The 4 On Your Side team will be carefully watching each step these state agencies make in the days and weeks to come and we'll report back to you—our viewer.