ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – Evidence found at a New Mexico youth ranch for troubled kids corroborates allegations by current and former students of abuse, the governor said Monday.
The comments by Gov. Susana Martinez came as she defended the state’s handling of an investigation into the Tierra Blanca High Country Youth Program near Hillsboro ranch.
Authorities have declined to release many details about the allegations or what was found at the ranch, citing the ongoing investigation.
The Albuquerque Journal previously reported that the investigation included claims that students were beaten and shackled.
An Amber Alert and manhunt were launched on Friday by state police after officers found the ranch empty when they tried to take custody of the children.
Ranch attorney Pete Domenici Jr. accused the state of escalating the situation with the alert, which was issued after he said the children were safe and being returned to their parents. They were not missing or abducted, he said.
Martinez refused to apologize for the actions of state authorities.
“We felt they were in imminent danger because of what we found in those buildings,” she said of the children, explaining the alert was posted as officers moved to verify they had been returned to their parents.
The alert was cancelled on Sunday after law enforcement authorities, with the help of agencies in at least three others states, were able to verify the safety of all nine children.
Scott Chandler, the operator of the ranch, said last week that shackles were used in extreme circumstances, and that parents were aware and agreed to that before sending children to the ranch.
Police were seeking Chandler for questioning. He has denied any children were harmed and filed a lawsuit accusing investigators of targeting the ranch for closure following a fatal car crash involving students.
Domenici said Monday that Chandler had made himself available to the New Mexico State Police “prior to the unnecessary escalation of this situation,” but the lawyer has now advised his client against making any direct contact with state police.
Martinez said investigators also need to question each of the students.
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