CYFD accused of covering up records in death of 4-year-old boy

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — James Dunklee Cruz was just four years old when he was horrifically beaten to death in 2019. His own mother, Krista Cruz, her friend, Pamela Esparza, and her fiancé, Zerrick Marquez, are all charged in his death.

Marquez took a plea deal for his role, agreeing to life in prison.

But attorneys representing Dunklee Cruz in a wrongful death lawsuit allege they are not the only ones responsible. Documents detail CYFD’s involvement in his life since the day he was born.

New documents filed in court Thursday provide even more detail about what happened in the months leading up to his death, from his CYFD caseworker. Attorneys are looking to amend the original suit to add claims of intentional destruction of evidence and civil rights violations.

The documents reveal new allegations that CYFD tried to cover its tracks after his death.

James was taken to a local urgent care just two months before he was found beaten to death at an Albuquerque apartment complex.

CYFD and police officers responded to the urgent care in October 2019. James had numerous injuries and disclosed abuse.

“This was a 4-year-old boy who showed up to an urgent care covered in bruises with a dislocated
shoulder and bruises on his penis,” said Alex Crecca, one of the attorneys representing James. “CYFD ignored that and sent him back to his mother so that he could be abused and tortured and eventually beaten to death.”

During depositions for the wrongful death lawsuit, the caseworker told attorneys – under oath – that after that urgent care visit and subsequent safe house interview, she asked her supervisors to initiate legal custody of James.

According to documents she was told by a supervisor to “calm down.”

“Why is an investigator begging her superiors, and this what she said under oath, begging please, please, take him into custody,” said Rachel Berenson, another attorney representing James.

According to documents, supervisors eventually gave the OK to initiate legal custody, but after sending James home with his mom. The caseworker was told she would have to find him first.

But 52 days later, with no apparent luck, they found him beaten to death.

After all that, the investigator told them under oath, she was forced to change and delete portions of her notes before entering them into the permanent CYFD database.

Attorneys believe her work phone – filled with evidence – was also cleared.

“CYFD is engaged in a cover-up,” said Alex Crecca. “They’re destroying evidence of their own wrongful acts. They’re saying in court that they do not have a responsibility to protect this child. It’s disgusting.”

KOB 4 has asked CYFD repeatedly if they’ve made any systematic improvements or changes as a result of his death. Those questions have yet to be answered. KOB 4 asked for an interview. That didn’t happen.

A CYFD spokesperson did send a statement:

“The Department will defend against these claims in court, including the fact that Mr. Zerrick Marquez has pleaded guilty to Intentional Abuse of a Child (Resulting in Death) in connection to the death of this innocent child.”

“Regardless of the circumstances that caused this child’s death, the Department remains committed to improving New Mexico’s child welfare system and preventing incidents like these from happening. We cannot comment on pending litigation.”

KOB 4 reached out to the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office to ask about the allegations of CYFD destroying evidence. A spokesperson shared this statement:

“The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office is in receipt of the amended complaint which sets forth allegations of potential misconduct by employees of CYFD. The matter is currently under review.”

KOB 4 also reached out to the governor’s office – in charge of CYFD. A spokesperson directed us back to CYFD.