Lawsuit accuses CYFD of negligence in placing child with father who killed her

Sep. 19—A lawsuit filed on behalf of an Albuquerque girl who was beaten to death accuses the state Children, Youth and Families Department of negligently removing the child and her brothers from their mother's home and placing them with a violent father.

Michael Garcia killed his 2-year-old daughter, Diana McGrory, in 2021.

The civil complaint was filed in state District Court on behalf of Diana and her siblings Thursday, less than a week after Garcia pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in her death under a plea agreement with the 2nd Judicial District Attorney's Office. The deal calls for him to serve a 28-year prison sentence.

Online court records show Garcia — who also pleaded guilty Sept. 8 to three counts of child abuse for injuring his then-4-year-old sons — is scheduled to be sentenced this month.

The complaint, filed by the Martinez, Hart Sanchez & Romero law firm and the Law Offices of Ryan J. Villa for the court-appointed guardians who represent the children, accuses New Mexico's child welfare agency of failing to protect the girl and her siblings. Its negligence resulted in "deadly consequences" for the toddler and "unspeakable harm" to her young brothers, who witnessed her death, the lawsuit says.

The case initially involved five siblings, including one who was not fathered by Garcia, the lawsuit says.

The eldest child, a 5-year-old boy, had gone to live with Garcia in the spring of 2021, the complaint says, but Garcia had a limited role in the lives of his other children before July 29, 2021. That's when authorities removed them from their mother's home after investigating concerns she was neglecting them.

Neither the CYFD investigator nor a supervisor who worked on the family's case was a licensed social worker, according to the lawsuit.

However, it says, the agency had multiple encounters with the family and should have known the children would not be safe in Garcia's care — a decision made despite their mother's objections and "the expressed concerns of law enforcement."

The children had developmental delays that made them more vulnerable, the suit adds.

The lawsuit seeks damages on behalf of the children and a court order requiring the troubled state agency to mandate specific training for investigators and to ensure licensed social workers conduct investigations into reports of abuse and neglect.

The Children, Youth and Families Department — which has faced calls for reform from state leaders amid a series of horrific child deaths in recent years, as well as persistent job vacancies and a high rate of repeat maltreatment of children in its care — did not respond to messages seeking comment Tuesday.

Garcia was charged after police responded to a 911 call from his mother Oct. 1, 2021. Officers found Diana lying on the floor of her father's Albuquerque home. She was unresponsive and unclothed but for a diaper, and had visible bruising on much of her body, including her face, ears, forehead, arms, legs, torso and feet, says a criminal complaint filed in Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court.

The toddler also had dark red burns on her thigh, backside and each palm, according to the criminal complaint.

The lawsuit says Diana had an adult bite mark on her leg and portions of her scalp were missing. A scan revealed she had bleeding on her brain, and a pathologist concluded the cause of her death was blunt trauma. The death was declared a homicide.

Garcia told police his daughter had hit her head against a wall and that the burn was from a stove or pot of water.

Her twin brothers had multiple injuries, including healing broken bones, the lawsuit says, adding Garcia and his mother claimed the injuries were self-inflicted.

Garcia had a criminal history that included domestic violence charges and had an active warrant for his arrest at the time of Diana's death, according to the lawsuit.

Months earlier, neighbors of the children's mother had reported she was mistreating them and had been outside in the sun with them for several hours.

Police investigating the concerns identified the mother as "someone ... experiencing a mental health crisis or possibly under the influence of drugs" and placed a 48-hour hold on her children, which allowed CYFD to take them into custody, the suit says. The agency kept one child in state custody and placed the other four siblings in their father's care.

Between July and October of 2021, when Diana was killed, the state agency learned Garcia was "overwhelmed" by parenting four young children, most of whom were nonverbal, weren't potty-trained and had special needs, the lawsuit says.

Garcia was not working with CYFD to ensure the child separated from his siblings was getting to see them, the suit says, and was not seeking services the agency had referred him to. He also had not enrolled the children in child care, which would have provided a safety net for them.

The state's failure to prioritize the safety of the children violated their rights under the state constitution, the lawsuit says, adding Diana's death and the physical and emotional wounds inflicted on her siblings were a direct result of that failure.