Affidavit: 52 calls for service preceded child abuse, sexual assault charges against parents

Note: This article contains descriptions of sexual assault and sexual violence against children. If you or someone you know experienced sexual violence, you can call La Piñon's 24-Hour Crisis Hotline at 575-526-3437 or go to

LAS CRUCES - A Las Cruces couple faces charges of child abuse and sexual assault after police say one of their children wandering a park without pants.

Candace Prendergast, 36, faces four counts of abuse of a child and one count of failure to report child abuse or neglect. Prendergast's boyfriend, 30-year-old Nicholas Leeth, faces five counts of criminal sexual contact.

Discovering the family

On Oct. 12, a neighbor called the police to the 300 block of Foster Road. The neighbor reported a two-year-old girl wandering alone and not wearing pants.

The neighbor later told detectives they went over the child and swaddled them with a blanket before police arrived. Then, according to the affidavit, the neighbor enlisted the help of a maintenance worker who helped locate the child's home.

At that point, Las Cruces Police Officers Nathan Krause and Horacio Rivera arrived. The maintenance worker pointed them to an apartment where he believed the child lived.

In the affidavit, Krause said the door was ajar when the officers arrived. As they announced themselves, they saw two children inside. Eventually, a 15-year-old girl greeted the officers. They would later learn that the girl was the sole caretaker of her step-siblings.

Krause and Rivera asked the 15-year-old about her parents. The girl said her mother, Prendergast, had taken two other children to school, and her boyfriend and father of several children, Leeth, was not allowed at the apartment.

The girl told the officers she could not contact Prendergast or Leeth. She had no phone, and the apartment had no heat or electricity, police said.

Afterward, Child Protective Services took five children, including the 15-year-old and the two children at school, into the agency's custody.

Interviews reveal abuse, neglect

While at the apartment, Krause and Rivera said they "realized that this was not just a case of a 15-year-old child having lost sight of their two-year-old sibling while their mother was out," according to the affidavit. Instead, the officer believed they'd stumbled onto a sweeping child abuse and neglect situation.

Later, a CPS investigator told a Las Cruces Police detective they'd received 52 calls for service regarding Prendergast and Leeth. The calls included child welfare, neglect, abandonment and drug use allegations.

The CPS investigator also said that Prendergast and Leeth had been uncooperative during the agency's investigation.

After CPS took the children into custody, police took the older children to La Piñon for interviews. There, the 15-year-old girl said Leeth had molested her several times over multiple years. Eventually, Prendergast found out and kicked Leeth out of the house, the girl said. Police said Prendergast did not make any efforts to notify police about the sexual abuse after she discovered it in 2021.

The girl said that she was the sole caretaker of her five stepsiblings. According to the affidavit, she said her mother often left the children alone all day under the guise of job hunting. The girl also told interviewers that she'd stopped attending school to care for her siblings in her mother's absence.

Arrests and future court dates

Prendergast and Leeth were both arrested on Oct. 26.

Prendergast was released on her own recognizance and told to have no contact with her children until the court resolved the case. On the other hand, prosecutors filed a motion seeking to keep Leeth in jail until his case was resolved.

Leeth appeared before 3rd Judicial District Judge Richard Jacquez Monday to determine if he was dangerous and should be held with bond. Prosecutors argued that Leeth should be detained indefinitely because of what police say they found on his phone.

After Prendergast's arrest, prosecutors said she turned over Leeth's phone, which contained sexually explicit photos of the 15-year-girl. Leeth also admitted to some of the allegations of sexual misconduct while denying others, prosecutors said.

In all, police said Leeth's phone contained over 100 photos of the girl while she was sleeping. Leeth faces separate charges — including voyeurism and manufacturing of visual medium of sexual exploitation of children — regarding the images.

Prosecutors also pointed to pending domestic violence and drug charges against Leeth as another reason he should be held before trial.

Ultimately, Judge Jacquez found prosecutors failed to prove that no conditions of release would ensure the public's safety. As a result, Leeth was released into pretrial services and ordered to have no contact with the children or with Prendergast.

Keep reading:

Justin Garcia is a public safety reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News. He can be reached at

This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: Las Cruces parents arrested on child abuse, sexual assault allegations