Social workers use qualified immunity to fight off wrongful death lawsuit

New Mexico social workers are using qualified immunity to fend off a wrongful death lawsuit filed against them by the family of a baby girl who died in foster care. 

Back in December 2017, eleven-month-old Ariza Barreras was found dead inside the Albuquerque home of Stephanie Crownover – a state licensed foster parent.  

According to KRQE News 13, medical examiners determined that Barreras died from pneumonia, which may have been worsened by conditions inside Crownover’s home. 

A subsequent wrongful death suit named five employees from the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) as being culpable for the infant’s passing.  

The suit stated that Crownover should never have been granted approval by the CYFD to become a foster mom, given that she had a criminal record and had been previously investigated for not providing adequate food and shelter for minors in her care. 

However, the employees of the CYFD are now using qualified immunity to try and have the suit dismissed. 

In the United States, qualified immunity is a legal principle that grants government officials immunity from civil suits unless the plaintiff shows that they have violated ‘clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known’. 

Back in December 2017, eleven-month-old Ariza Barreras was found dead inside the Albuquerque home of Stephanie Crownover - a state licensed foster parent

Back in December 2017, eleven-month-old Ariza Barreras was found dead inside the Albuquerque home of Stephanie Crownover - a state licensed foster parent

Back in December 2017, eleven-month-old Ariza Barreras was found dead inside the Albuquerque home of Stephanie Crownover – a state licensed foster parent

The defense is often used by police officers who are sued for incidents that occur while they are on the job.  

The attorney for Barreras’ family believes that they will beat the qualified immunity defense in court because a ‘reasonable person’ will be able to see that the social workers have clearly violated the rights of Barreras’ family. 

‘In this case, we’ve alleged – and got plenty of examples of things that we think a jury would find have violated their rights,’ attorney Bryan Williams told KOB 4. 

Among them is the fact that Crownover was issued with approval to become a foster mom by the CYFD in 2016, despite the fact she had a ‘extensive criminal history,’ including an aggravated battery arrest.

According to KOB 4, a home inspection determined that Crownover ‘had no bedding for children, and had a low annual income that would be make it hard for her to provide for kids in her care’. 

Additionally the reported ‘even noted that CYFD had investigated her a number of times for inadequate food and shelter and excessive discipline.’

Still, she received a stamp of approval to become a foster parent.   

According to KRQE News 13 , medical examiners determined that Barreras died from pneumonia before her first birthday

According to KRQE News 13 , medical examiners determined that Barreras died from pneumonia before her first birthday

According to KRQE News 13 , medical examiners determined that Barreras died from pneumonia before her first birthday 

Stephanie Crownover - a state licensed foster parent - was charged with child abuse following Barreras' death. The charges were later dismissed

Stephanie Crownover - a state licensed foster parent - was charged with child abuse following Barreras' death. The charges were later dismissed

Stephanie Crownover – a state licensed foster parent – was charged with child abuse following Barreras’ death. The charges were later dismissed 

After Barreras’ death, investigators noted that Crownover’s home had an unbearable stench and was littered with animal feces and urine. 

Crownover was arrested and charged with three counts of child abuse after the 11-month-old girl died. 

However, the charges were dismissed last year. 

The family say the wrongful death lawsuit is now their only way of getting justice. 

A spokesperson for CYFD told KOB 4 that  they could not comment on ongoing litigation. 

The offices for the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) are pictured

The offices for the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) are pictured

The offices for the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) are pictured

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