Child’s death shines light on debate over qualified immunity | KOB 4

Child’s death shines light on debate over qualified immunity

Tommy Lopez
Updated: December 31, 2020 10:20 PM
Created: December 31, 2020 06:06 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- Three years after 11-month-old Ariza Barreras died while in the state's care, a legal battle ensues.

The family’s attorneys are building a case against the foster parent and the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department.

CYFD was added to the lawsuit in July 2019. It blames five CYFD employees for not protecting Ariza.  

Ariza was found unresponsive while in temporary foster care. The lawsuit alleges the home were Ariza was staying was littered with animal feces and urine.

CYFD has used qualified immunity to fight the lawsuit.

Qualified immunity is a legal principle that grants protections for law enforcement officers who face lawsuits. There’s a push by some state lawmakers to tone down or do away with these protections for police. The issue could come up in the upcoming legislative session.

"This case is a perfect example to show, look, getting rid of qualified immunity as part of that civil rights bill shouldn’t just be focused on the police officers. It should be focused on all state actors," said attorney Bryan Williams, who represents Ariza's family.

Williams believes removing qualified immunity could help future cases similar to the one he is presenting.

"It’s not just police officers who can violate your rights," he said. "CYFD, in this case, we’ve alleged -- and got plenty of examples of things that we think a jury would find -- that they have violated their rights.”

Williams believe they will beat the qualified immunity defense.

In the meantime, Ariza’s parents are still grieving.

"Obviously they have a lot on their plate, and their wounds are open right now," Williams said.

Williams says it appears the parents were close to getting Ariza back when she died.

They got their other two children back after Ariza’s death.

Williams doesn’t how long it’ll take for the lawsuit to play out. If this current appeal goes their way, the process will continue in Federal Court.

A spokesperson for CYFD said they couldn't comment on ongoing litigation. However, they added that the department thoroughly investigates the death of any child.

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