Attorney accuses CYFD of not releasing teen for ‘political reasons’
Parents of Mason Campbell, the seventh-grader that opened fire with a sawed-off shotgun in Berrendo Middle School’s gymnasium, injuring two students on Jan. 14, 2014, have made allegations against the state agency that’s kept the now 16-year-old in custody.
Mason was adjudicated in Chaves County District Court on July 2, 2014, as a delinquent offender for three counts of aggravated battery and one count of unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon on school premises.
The court ordered Mason be transferred to the legal custody of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department until the age of 21, unless sooner discharged.
As Campbell remains in physical custody within a CYFD facility in Albuquerque, his parents, Jim and Jennifer Campbell, have continually raised concerns against the CYFD’s alleged lack of medical attention and overall concern to their son, citing civil rights violations and several breaches of statutory duties by the state agency.
Described as “total and abject failures” in a civil complaint filed by Ruidoso attorney Gary C. Mitchell, the Campbells’ attorney mentions instances of the CYFD allegedly not being able to follow guidelines recommended by expert doctors, not rendering proper medical or mental care and not allowing proper family contact or counseling.
According to the complaint, Mason had a mental disorder or a developmental disability, and should have been placed in a residential treatment in line with the Children’s Mental Health and Development Act.
Mitchell said this did not occur.
In terms of education, Mason has been taking classes through the online course, Edgenuity. Mitchell said Mason Campbell has been denied the aid of a teacher for difficult math courses.
Mitchell also cites New Mexico administration codes. In multiple sections, the code references opportunities in which clients should have opportunities to make and receive personal phone calls, subject to a facility’s schedule and the program’s education level.
“Mason Campbell has never had the opportunity to receive calls and has been denied incoming calls that pertained to urgent matters,” the complaint states. “There have been many documented times that Mason Campbell has asked to call his parents, and his request has been denied.”
Health complications were noted while Mason has been in the custody of the CYFD, according to the complaint.
In May 2015, Mason’s parents were advised that their son had been complaining of chronic back pain and having to take ibuprofen several times a day.
In response, the couple pleaded for the CYFD to allow them to purchase a more suitable mattress for their child, which was refused.
In August 2015, Mason was diagnosed with scoliosis.
Mason’s parents were never told of this diagnosis until he told them, the complaint alleges.
Two years later, in February 2017, Mason was again diagnosed with scoliosis and, in addition, Scheuermann’s Kyphosis, a form of bone deformity found mostly in teenagers.
Obtaining proper eyecare was also a problem Mason encountered, according to the complaint.
Lastly, CYFD allegedly refused to advise Mason’s parents about a diagnosis regarding a regurgitating heart valve issue.
“In fact, defendants told Mason Campbell not to tell his parents of this condition,” the complaint states.
Mitchell said it was due to the agency’s negligence and failure to comply with the law that they chose to file a lawsuit.
His major allegation against the agency, however, is that he believes the real reason Mason remains within the CYFD is due to the politics of the situation.
“They could have released him a long time ago, and they should have,” Mitchell told the Daily Record. “This happens to a lot of kids — particularly in these high-profile cases where CYFD is scared to death of the governor and all others who would raise Cain if they release somebody when they know they should be releasing them.”
Mitchell said, with Mason’s family, he finally has a client willing to fight back.
“He’s supposed to be there for rehabilitation — that’s the intent of the Legislature — and not there for just incarceration,” Mitchell said. “He wasn’t sent there to be there until age 21.”
The CYFD can only keep Mason up to the age of 21.
“Once he’s rehabilitated, which several psychologists say he has been — he should be released,” Mitchell said. “They’re not even doing that.”
The complaint states that Mason has attained a level of education, mental stability, performance and individual progress that shows he is rehabilitated, and that a release plan can “easily be devised.”
“He succeeded because of his parents, and his own motivation,” Mitchell said. “Not because of anything great the CYFD’s done.
“He’s done everything he’s supposed to do and the psychologists and the doctors have given reports that he’s not a threat.”
The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department itself is structured into five individual services: Behavioral health, early childhood, protective services, program support, and in Mason’s situation — juvenile justice.
May Jaramilla, a program director at CYFD, said the department is unable to comment on active cases, but was able to explain the juvenile process.
“From our perspective with juvenile justice, our focus at CYFD is really on public safety, and the rehabilitation of the young people who are committed to our facility,” Jaramilla told the Daily Record. “So, (we’re) working with them to equip them with the tools needed and address the issues that may have brought them into our facility, so when they return to their community, they (won’t) do the things that may have brought them in the first place.”
“Our state Supreme Court has made it really clear, and our Legislature has made it very clear that CYFD is supposed to be in the business of rehabilitating children — not just incarcerating them,” Mitchell said.
Referencing the Berrendo Middle School shooting, Mitchell said he understands it was a catastrophic event for everyone involved.
“It always is when it involves our children,” he said. “But what people need to realize when it comes to children — it’s far better to take time to treat children when they’re children — rather than wait until they’re adults and try to treat them.”
Multimedia-Crime reporter Trevier Gonzalez can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at email@example.com.