Albuquerque Journal, October 8, 1998
Suit Claims Guard Watched Teen-ager Raped in Jail
By Rene Romo
LAS CRUCES -- A teen-ager who was allegedly sexually assaulted by other youths in a juvenile jail while a guard watched is suing the state and Cibola County for negligence. The incident occurred in late 1997 at the Cibola County Correctional Center, which was used to house juveniles temporarily because of overcrowding at the New Mexico Boys' School at Springer.
Juvenile advocates last week brought up the incident in a presentation to the Legislature's interim Health and Human Services Committee. They said it was an example of the failure of the Children, Youth and Families Department to provide adequate rehabilitative services, education and protection to adjudicated youths.
Third Judicial District Court Judge Thomas Cornish told the legislative committee that every time he refers a child to Springer he feels ''like I've taken a bite out of my personal morality and integrity. I'm condemning that child to poverty, ignorance and possibly to cruel treatment.''
The story of the sexual assault victim, 19-year-old Rocky Bardwell of Las Cruces, took a disastrous turn on July 17 when he allegedly shot and killed his ex-girlfriend in a Phoenix apartment and then shot himself in the head in an unsuccessful suicide attempt.
''It's just a tragic situation all the way around,'' said Bardwell's attorney, David Proper of Las Cruces. According to the negligence lawsuit, filed in June in U.S. District Court in Las Cruces, Bardwell was sexually assaulted and sodomized on Aug. 31, 1997, by other juveniles in a pod at the Cibola County Correctional Center while guard Calvin Nelson watched and failed to intervene. Nelson could not be located for comment. An assistant district attorney in the county said Nelson has denied seeing an assault.
After the incident, Bardwell was transferred from Cibola County Correctional to Springer where he was placed in isolation for two weeks in September 1997 and never offered counseling, according to the lawsuit. Bardwell was technically discharged from parole and released from the custody of the Children, Youth and Families Department on Oct. 8, 1997. He subsequently got on a bus and moved to Phoenix, where his mother was living, Proper said.
Bardwell's lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages against the department and former secretary Heather Wilson, now U.S. representative for the 1st Congressional District; Cibola County; Danny Martinez, former acting superintendent of the Cibola County Correctional Center; and Nelson.
Following a Children, Youth and Families Department and State Police investigation of the assault on Bardwell, charges were brought against three youths:
* Last December, Billy Giangola, 18, of Albuquerque was committed to the custody of Children, Youth and Families until the age of 21 for pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping, a second-degree felony.
* On Tuesday this week, Michael Bearden, now 21, of Grants, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, a fourth-degree felony, and conspiracy to commit kidnapping, a third-degree felony, in state District Court in Grants.
* A bench warrant was issued Tuesday for Ivan Sandoval, 19, of Carlsbad, who failed to appear in state District Court in Grants on charges of first-degree criminal sexual penetration, conspiracy to commit criminal sexual penetration, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping. After an investigation, Nelson was fired by Cibola County, Proper said.
Martinez said in an interview that Bardwell was tied up, and he was sodomized briefly with a deodorant bottle.
''It started out as horeseplay, and it got carried away, and that's what resulted,'' Martinez said. ''Stupidity is what it was.''
Martinez, now program director of the Albuquerque Boys Reintegration Center, part of the Children, Youth and Families Juvenile Justice Division, said about 18 juveniles were in the two-story pod when the incident occurred on the upper level, and the guard was in the pod at the time. The incident ended when Bardwell got into a fight with another juvenile, and another guard making his rounds came upon the scene, Proper said.
Martinez said the assault was an ''isolated incident'' and was not the outgrowth of systemic problems with an overwhelmed Springer, as critics contend. Dorian Dodson, deputy secretary of the Children, Youth and Families Department, declined to comment on the allegations in the federal lawsuit because it is pending litigation. Since late 1997, the department has opened a maximum-security juvenile jail, called Camino Nuevo, in Albuquerque, and a work camp called Camp Sierra Blanca near Ruidoso.
Bardwell had been living with 19-year-old Amy Bonc and her 9-month-old son, the child of another man, for about one month when she broke up with him in mid-July, according to a Phoenix police report. A few days later, on July 16, Bardwell went to Bonc's apartment and found her there with the child's father, Daniel Soileau.
Bardwell allegedly returned to the apartment about 5 a.m. on July 17 with a handgun and, three hours later, shot Bonc in the neck while Soileau was in the bedroom with Bonc's child.
Phoenix police found Bardwell in the apartment's bathroom with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Bardwell was arrested on charges of first-degree murder, two counts aggravated assault and two counts of kidnapping. Proper said he believes Bardwell felt his ''manhood was violated'' by the assault in juvenile detention and ''when his girlfriend said she was leaving him, he snapped.''