October 28, 2016

‘They’re making it look like we’re the evil people’


Photo Credit: Joe Gratz cc

The parents of one boy who was molested in Truth or Consequences want their former acquaintances and current neighbors to know one thing—they’re not bad people.

“That’s what I’m pissed off about,” said the father of the boy. “They’re making it look like we’re the evil people and it ain’t right.”

The father’s son was molested by Alejandro Hernandez, a now-24-year-old man who pleaded guilty to two counts of inappropriate contact with boys he was in charge of at a Truth or Consequences Boys and Girls Club last year. Now, the parents of one of those boys are suing Hernandez’s former employer, Rebecca Dow, who runs the organization.

The boy and his parents are identified in the lawsuit only by initials. The parents agreed to speak with NM Political Report on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation from others in their community.

The boy’s mother said she is already being treated differently in her city of almost 7,000 people since filing the lawsuit.

“The way they looked at me, the way they talked to me, was different,” she said of her former co-workers after she filed the lawsuit.

Those former colleagues worked with the mother at  Dow’s AppleTree Educational Center, another child care facility in Truth or Consequences.

The mother said she worked for Dow in the “baby room” at AppleTree. In July 2015, a young boy accused Hernandez of rape while the two were hiding in a closet together.

After that incident, someone came to AppleTree and told the mother that Hernandez had previously molested her son.

“[She said] ‘It happened to your boy first,’” the mother recalled, holding back tears.

Within days, the parents consulted with a local attorney and decided to sue Dow, who is now running for an open seat in the state House of Representatives as a Republican. Among other things, the lawsuit accuses Dow of trying to convince the family not to sue her. Now, the mother said community members are pressuring her to do the same.

“Especially the ladies I used to work with,” the mother said.

She said she’s been asked why she’s going after Dow and if it’s just for the money, which both parents insist is not the case.

Motive is often the question in personal injury claims. One high-profile case involving hot coffee in Albuquerque sparked national attention, and sometimes outrage, in the early 1990s.

Stella Liebeck successfully sued McDonald’s after she bought hot coffee from the drive-through window, spilled it and burned herself. The court awarded Liebeck $500,000, short of the millions she sought. Since then, restaurants across the nation have changed their procedures for serving hot beverages.

Changing procedures is often the point of tort claims, according to Albuquerque attorney Will Ferguson.

“If it’s costing a business money if they do something wrong, there’s a strong tendency to institute a change,” Ferguson told NM Political Report.

Ferguson said it isn’t surprising that a small community would be reacting negatively toward the mother’s lawsuit.

“[Members of small communities] have strange ideas how the justice system works and they take things personally,” he said.

Dow and others who operate child care facilities in the state are likely to “look a little harder at the next guy they hire,” Ferguson added.

The suit will not likely be resolved before Election Day, but the fact that she’s running for office appears to be an issue for both sides.

In his complaint against Dow and her business, the mother’s attorney Mark Filesa wrote that Dow discouraged the family from suing because she was running for office. Dow’s lawyers in return accused Filosa and the family of courting media attention because of Dow’s campaign.

NM Political Report reached out to attorneys for Dow for comment on this story but did not receive one by press time. If we receive a response, we will add it to this story.

Both sides are scheduled to appear in court in December—more than a month after Election Day—when a judge is expected to rule on whether to make Hernandez’s personnel file and other documents public.