KOB Channel 4 Local News
When the story about Tierra Blanca Ranch hit my desk, all I knew at the time was that a teenaged boy, Bruce, had died in a truck rollover on the ranch land. My News Director asked that I look into Tierra Blanca Ranch to see if there is anything more to the story…and I’m so glad I listened.
Within hours of taking the assignment, I had built case files with hundreds of pages of documents of allegations in police reports and state documents that showed a pattern of complaints alleging rampant abuse at Tierra Blanca Ranch. At least a dozen boys interviewed at different times by different investigators said they were forced into child slavery by tending the 30,000 acre ranch owned by Scott Chandler. They told stories of working outside for up to 15 hours a day in grueling conditions,sometimes in extreme temperatures. They said they were punished by excessive exercises, food deprivation, threats of castration, and brutal beatings. In a police report, one teen described being forced by a staff member to put rocks and sand in a sock and beat his friend. The boys also described what they called a “firewall.” When a teen is “firewalled,” he’s not allowed to talk to other people or be spoken to, which as you can imagine creates a very lonely existence.
It’s important that we question why a man who admits he and his staff have no professional training to work with at-risk kids is taking in dozens of teens with serious behavioral health issues. It’s also important that we question what our state agencies have done about these allegations.
Martinez: “Absolutely I stand behind this alert”By Chris McKee HILLSBORO, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico’s Governor Susana Martinez addressed the ongoing investigation at the Tierra Blanca Youth Ranch Monday, revealing new details about what investigators uncovered at the ranch property and firing back at allegations from the ranch owner’s attorney that the teens at the property were never in danger.
Defending the state’s use of the Amber Alert, Governor Martinez gave an emotional response to the media on Monday, underscoring the state’s response in the search for the nine teens that went missing from the ranch in southwest New Mexico on Friday.”Absolutely I stand behind this alert, I will never apologize,” said Governor Martinez. “We felt they were in imminent danger because of what was discovered within those buildings in Tierra Blanca.”In her address, Governor Martinez said that evidence was collected Friday in relation to recent allegations
that kids may have been abused at the ranch over the past few years.“The search warrant revealed evidence that I cannot tell you precisely what it was but did corroborate some of the allegations of some of those boys,” said Governor Martinez.When that search happened, New Mexico State Police say none of the teens were on the property, something the Governor says was troubling.“They (the ranch) had had contact with Children Youth and Families Department the day before and all of the sudden all of the boys are being returned home,” said Governor Martinez.The attorney for ranch owner Scott Chandler, Pete Domenici Jr. insisted over the weekend that the boys were on a wilderness trip.“They’ve been on many, many of these similar kinds of trips that have been safe productive, they’ve allowed continuity, so there’s nothing unusual about this,” said Domenici Jr.However, Martinez says the ranch owner Chandler drove the boys home across multiple states.“When they’re being delivered home, they’re not on a pre-planned wilderness program,” said Martinez. “For him to have stayed put and let police and social workers do their job would have been much better than to go around amongst three states dropping off children.”
…For months now, reports of abuse from former students have swirled about the ranch, prompting the authorities to execute a search warrant at Tierra Blanca on Friday. When the police arrived, nine teenagers supposed to be living there were gone, and an Amber Alert was issued.
By Monday, the youths were located and reunited with families and legal guardians. But Mr. Chandler, who has denied wrongdoing through his lawyer, has seemingly vanished. And Gov. Susana Martinez told reporters this week that the authorities uncovered evidence affirming some of the abuse allegations. “His whereabouts are still unknown, and when we do figure out where he is, we want to talk with him,” said Sgt. Emmanuel Gutierrez, a spokesman for the state police.
Sergeant Gutierrez would not discuss details of the investigation, but said that police had been looking into Tierra Blanca, along with New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department, since May.
Pete Domenici Jr., a lawyer for Mr. Chandler, said that the children were on a planned trip when the police arrived, and that he had advised his client not to speak with the authorities. The state, he said, had been too aggressive in investigating the ranch, considering parents turned their children over to Tierra Blanca for guardianship.
“Parents were aware of, and authorized the use of limited and appropriate physical restraints and limited appropriate physical discipline,” he said. “Never for the purpose of punishment, only for the purpose of safety, either for the youth in the program, or the safety of others.”
The Associated Press
…Meanwhile, attorney Pete Domenici Jr. for the Tierra Blanca High Country Youth Program near Hillsboro maintained through the weekend that all the boys were safely with their parents. He also said authorities had blown the situation out of proportion.
State police executed a search warrant at the 30,000-acre, high-desert compound last week when they discovered the teens weren’t there. Authorities are investigating claims of abuse at the ranch.
By: Chris Ramirez, KOB Eyewitness News 4
As you’ve seen over the past week, many of the kids who were at the Tierra Blanca Ranch have come forward to offer their version of what they saw.
Not everyone has the same story.
One young man, who is now 21, contacted 4 On Your Side Investigator Chris Ramirez. His story is one that is very familiar to Chris.
Chris Ramirez: I read Connor Griffoul’s story weeks ago.
It stood out to me in this stack of police documents because it showed Connor’s story is similar to so many others that I read about what goes on at Tierra Blanca Ranch.
And it shows how the state didn’t take the claims of what was happening at the Ranch serious until only just recently.
Connor now lives in the San Francisco Bay area. I interviewed him through an internet connection.
Connor Griffoul: We were placed in handcuffs and shackles and orange suits for three months straight. The entire time, we were camping, we weren’t in a house. We were literally in handcuffs wearing orange jumpsuits and had to camp in a tent. We were there for nine months and I took seven showers. I wasn’t allowed to talk to my friends, I was allowed to talk to my family. I got one phone call my entire stay there. I wasn’t allowed to get letters from my mother. It was awful.
Connor Griffoul ran away from Tierra Blanca in 2008.
When a State Police officer found him, he noted in his report that Connor was in handcuffs and in possession of a stolen phone that Connor had used to call for help.
Instead of taking Connor to safety, that State Police officer returned Connor to the Tierra Blanca Ranch.
Connor Griffoul: A couple days after, we were sitting in camp and a helicopter started flying overhead and shortly after that Scott came and he told me you’re going to jail for stealing the satellite phone. Pack all your stuff I’m taking you in. I said fine, get me out of here, I honestly would rather go to jail than be there.
Even in New Mexico’s super max prison, inmates are allowed daily showers and given access to a toilet.
KMVT Local News
…Amid allegations of child abuse, Scott Chandler filed the lawsuit in an attempt to stop the state from shutting down the ranch, last week.
State police then served a warrant at the ranch on Friday.
When they tried to take custody of the teens, they realized they were missing – prompting an Amber Alert.
An attorney for Tierra Blanca Youth Ranch says the teens were being taken back to their guardians by the ranch.
“We will be asking the court to declare that Scott Chandler was acting with parental authority and that the parents that were working with him and who gave him the temporary guardianship were also acting with parental authority,” said Pete Domenici Jr., Tierra Blanca Ranch Attorney.
These are by no means isolated incidents. Advocacy group HEAL, made up of thousands of former
inmates students of these schools, have put together a lengthy list of these schools, citing documented abuse and warning parents about this scam.
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