A four-year-old boy died two years ago, allegedly after a severe beating from a family friend. In the latest development in the death of James Dunklee Cruz, the boy’s mother and the girlfriend of the accused killer were charged with child abuse in mid-December.
This tragedy likely could have been avoided if New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) took prompt action years ago had it removed the boy from his home after numerous warning signs and investigations. Now, because of the agency’s inaction, a child has lost their life. The agency’s shortcomings and failures contributed to the boy’s death, leading to a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the CYFD in May.
This latest development in this case adds more credence to the wrongful death lawsuit.
Before the boy’s death, the CYFD investigated the child’s home eight times. Instead of removing the boy from his mother’s home, its staff created a “safety plan.” Part of that safety plan declared that Zerrick Marquez – the child’s alleged killer — was never to be alone with the boy.
Two months after the boy’s December 2019 death, Authorities charged Marquez with child abuse resulting in death. Now, it has taken almost another two years for the filing of criminal charges against the boy’s mother, Krista Cruz, and Pamela Esparza – the girlfriend of Marquez.
Allegations of abuse and child neglect in the case dated back to 2018. The boy allegedly informed CYFD staff that he felt unsafe with his mother, who, sometimes, failed to feed him. Throughout the boy’s short life, there were instances in which law enforcement found him wandering alone outside.
After one severe beating, the boy arrived at an urgent care facility. A treating physician contacted CYFD, recommending the boy’s removal from the home. However, the CYFD did not do so.
The state agency consistently missed opportunities to save the boy’s life.
There is no excuse for what happened to James Dunklee Cruz. The CYFD failed, failed, failed. It is time for agencies such as the CYFD to remain accountable for their inactions. The potential result of this wrongful death lawsuit just may lead to major changes at this agency. And this could lead to saving the lives of other vulnerable children.