New Mexico Jury Awards $485M in Sexual Assault Case

August 7, 2023

A jury has awarded $485 million in damages in a civil case brought on behalf of an 8-year-old girl who was repeatedly sexually assaulted in a New Mexico foster care program.

The verdict came in late July after Rio Arriba County jurors heard nearly two weeks of testimony that focused in part on allegations of corporate negligence.

The program allegedly placed the girl in the home of a foster parent despite knowing that he had been accused of sexual assault, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in 2019. It was one of more than a half-dozen cases arising from sexual assaults of children in the program.

Clarence Garcia, 66, pleaded guilty in January to seven counts of criminal sexual contact with a minor and was sentenced to up to 20 years of probation. Court records show Garcia was accused of sexually abusing six children under his care over six years.

In April, probation officers found that Garcia allegedly violated his probation after they searched his property and found bags of stuffed animals, a yoga book “with young children in suggestive poses” and accessories for firearms.

He faces an Aug. 3 sentencing hearing that could send him to prison for up to 42 years.

The jury awarded $80 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages against Acadia Healthcare, the operator of a now-defunct licensed residential treatment facility in New Mexico, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

Acadia said in an email that the victim was not in the direct care of any facility operated by the company but was in a treatment foster care program managed by Familyworks, a nonprofit.

Familyworks and defunct Acadia subsidiary Youth and Family Centered Services of New Mexico Inc. will pay $75 million apiece with $5 million in punitive damages connected to Garcia`s conduct.

“I think the jury’s award and verdict show the little girl she is valued and that what happened to her shouldn’t have happened,” Josh Conaway, an attorney who represented the child told the Santa Fe New Mexican.

The state Children, Youth and Families Department revoked a license for Acadia- owned Desert Hills in 2019 amid reports of sexual abuse and violence at the residential treatment facility, which served children with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as behavioral issues.