February 10, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
While we’re once again on the case in which nine-year-old New Mexican Omaree Varela was allegedly kicked to death by his mother, Synthia Varela-Casaus, updates are arriving daily.
Here we read about the 911 call surreptitiously placed in July, 2013 by Omaree and recorded by the 911 dispatcher (KOAT, 2/5/14). We see the horrible verbal abuse he’s subjected to by his mother and her husband, Omaree’s stepfather, Steve Casaus. Eventually two police officers arrived, but did nothing to either prevent further abuse or to allow others to do so. They failed to even make a report of the incident and failed to report it to the Children, Youth and Families Department whose job it is to protect children at risk of abuse or neglect. At the time Omaree placed the 911 call, he was already known to CYFD to be a boy in danger from his mother, but of course, since the police didn’t call the agency, they didn’t know about the previous abuse. Both Omaree’s mother and stepfather have lengthy rap sheets for prostitution, drug trafficking, aggravated assault of a police officer and the like.
Here, groups are calling for the officers to be fired along with the head of CYFD, Yolanda Deines (KRQE, 2/9/14). Deines appears to be a political crony of Governor Susana Martinez. The groups are also calling for Steve Casaus to face charges although, at this point, despite his disgusting rants on the 911 tape, there seems to be little evidence of criminal wrongdoing by him. My guess is that he knew about the abuse by his wife and didn’t intervene to stop it, so he could be charged based on that. My further guess is that he abused Omaree himself although how much hard evidence there is of that is impossible to say. I won’t be surprised if Varela-Casaus provides plenty of detail for the police, however. Having already informed them that she didn’t mean to kill Omaree, but merely “kicked him the wrong way,” I figure she’ll be doing everything she can to deflect blame. (What, Ms. Varela-Casaus, is the “right way” to kick a child?)
Finally, faced with a high-profile case in which one horribly abusive and dysfunctional mother kicked her son to death while her horribly abusive and dysfunctional stepfather failed to protect the boy, it must be time for the state legislature to overreact. In another context, we know that “bad facts make bad law,” and these bad facts run the risk of doing just that.
Here we learn that the state legislature is considering passing “Omaree’s Law.” (KOB4, 2/7/14)
The measure requires the state's Children Youth and Families Department to immediately take kids into custody who show specific signs of abuse, including burns, multiple bruises and bite marks.
Also, parents with a history of drug abuse and neglect claims would have to complete counseling before getting their kids back.
I understand the need to “do something” when faced with such a horrific – and public – case of child abuse. That of course is particularly true with elected officials. The last thing a legislator wants is for an opponent in the next election to start shouting about how he/she stood by and did nothing in the face of such brutality. But mandating actions by police or child welfare agencies in all cases is not the way to go. Mandatory arrest laws in cases of alleged domestic violence and drug possession have wrought enough havoc in this country already.
It’s difficult to allow law enforcement and child protective officials to exercise discretion when they’ve so clearly failed a child when doing exactly that. But the fact remains that that’s exactly what needs to continue. If that law passes, we’ll see countless children, with bruises gotten when they really did fall down or got hit by a ball on the playground, taken away from their parents and into foster care. Did a child put its hand on a hot stove when perfectly fit and loving Mom wasn’t looking? It’s off to foster care for the child and Mom’s faced with costly legal bills and a record with the police and CYFD.
No, shock and horror, even though completely justified in an individual case, should not be the impetus for passing a law that applies to all cases, is not smart lawmaking.
I know it’s not as satisfying as quickly passing a law that shows the world how “tough” the legislature is on this type of crime and how “responsive” its members are to their constituents. But if they really want to do something about child abuse, they’ll spend more money to, on one hand, train and retain top quality caseworkers and, on the other, invest in programs that teach dysfunctional parents how to parent properly.
Would that have saved Omaree’s life? It’s hard to know. But he’d been in foster care before, only to be returned to a brutal mother and stepfather. Nothing about “Omaree’s Law” would have changed that, but it certainly would wrench children from the care of fit parents for no reason beyond the usual bumps and bruises that every child experiences.
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