Another family hits Tierra Blanca Ranch with lawsuit

Posted at: 03/01/2014 10:02 PM
Updated at: 11/11/2015 3:12 PM
By: Erica Zucco, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Another family claims their loved one suffered physical and emotional abuse at the Tierra Blanca Ranch in southern New Mexico.

Cheryl and James Morgan just filed a lawsuit on behalf of their grandson.

They say he was also forced to work without pay.

So far, no criminal charges have been filed against the ranch or owner Scott Chandler.

The ranch is still up and running.

The new lawsuit also names New Mexico’s Children Youth and Families Department as a defendant.

It says the agency did not do enough to protect kids on the ranch.

CYFD would not comment on the pending lawsuit, but they say they are working on multiple ways to make sure kids at Tierra Blanca Ranch are safe.

Back in February, CYFD was trying to get lawmakers to pass a bill giving them oversight of wilderness programs like Tierra Blanca Ranch.

“I think that there are certain children that need tough love and need very close structure and close supervision and a different kind of outlet for their anger,” CYFD Secretary Yolanda Deines said. “I'm totally in support of that. I just need to know we don't create a Lord of the Flies situation anywhere in New Mexico and as long as we don't have supervision for this kind of program, there's potential for that.”

Both bills proposed to give CYFD the power to oversee those programs failed. Opponents said the bills were too vague and a danger to New Mexico businesses.

So CYFD signed a settlement with Tierra Blanca Ranch agreeing that the camp has the right to operate, but that gives CYFD access to minors and their files at any time, unannounced. The settlement only lasts a year.

That gives CYFD time to work on the second part of its plan – continuing to press lawmakers to pass the law they really want: one that will give CYFD full and continuing oversight of programs like this one.

“It's truly horrific and when I refer to a situation as a Lord of the Flies situation, it very much felt that way as I was looking at all the information my staff was obtaining,” Deines said.

Tierra Blanca Ranch says they agreed to the settlement because they wanted people to know they were still open and operating.