The parents of a boy who opened fire in a Roswell middle school in January 2014, injuring two classmates, are accusing New Mexico’s child welfare agency of violating his civil rights at the state-run youth detention center where he has been held for the past three years.
Jim and Jennifer Campbell say in a lawsuit filed this week that among other serious issues, their son has been denied an opportunity for release — not because he hasn’t been rehabilitated but because his crime became a high-profile case, drawing attention nationwide and beyond.
Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper called Mason Campbell, just 12 at the time, a “baby-faced school shooter.”
The Campbells also claim in their suit, filed Tuesday in state District Court in Santa Fe, that the Albuquerque-based Youth Diagnostic and Development Center has failed to address their son’s medical conditions, has offered inadequate education, has not provided sufficient counseling and other mental health services — even those recommended by a judge — and repeatedly has denied the boy’s requests to speak with his parents by telephone.
Mason Campbell is suffering from painful scoliosis — a sideways curvature of the spine — and an erratic heartbeat, the suit says, and could end up with lifelong problems because he is not receiving proper treatment.
The Campbells’ attorney, Gary Mitchell of Ruidoso, believes the case could have a broad effect for children in New Mexico’s juvenile justice system.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that “children are to be treated differently,” Mitchell said in an interview Wednesday, adding that neurological studies consistently have found that child and adolescent brains are still developing, sometimes leading to poor choices and rash actions.
“Kids need to be rehabilitated,” Mitchell said. “… Anybody with a lick of sense knows that if you work with children, you see results later on.”
Officials with the Children, Youth and Families Department, which operates the youth detention center, said the agency had not yet received the lawsuit by Wednesday afternoon and could not comment specifically on the case.
The agency’s Juvenile Justice Services Division is “focused on public safety, with regard to the role we play … and with youth rehabilitation,” Secretary Monique Jacobson said.
Mason Campbell was a seventh-grader when he brought a sawed-off shotgun into the Berrendo Middle School gymnasium in Roswell and shot 12-year-old Nathanial Tavarez in the face, critically wounding him, and 13-year-old Kendal Sanders in the shoulder. According to news reports, he had written about the planned attack in a notebook and had altered his father’s gun in preparation for the event, which might have been triggered by bullying.
About six months after the shooting, the boy pleaded no contest to three charges of aggravated battery and one count of bringing a firearm into a school and was handed the maximum sentence for a youth — detention up to the age of 21.
His young victims tearfully testified at his sentencing hearing about the lifelong effects of their injuries.
“Up to 21 means they can parole him before that,” Mitchell argued Wednesday.
The Children, Youth and Families Department has the authority to release a youth offender on supervision before the end of a commitment to a detention facility, and agency officials confirmed there is a process in place for reviewing a case of a youth offender and determining whether to grant an early release.
But according to the Campbells’ complaint, “CYFD refuses to allow Mason Campbell to even appear before a parole board.”
Now 14, the boy is showing no signs of mental illness, has behaved well in the detention facility and is no longer a danger to the community, the lawsuit says, adding that despite his poor care in state custody, Mason Campbell “has managed to survive and be rehabilitated.”
The state agency’s own director of psychiatry found that Mason Campbell “exhibits no antisocial ideation or values and his prognosis for complete and successful eventual reintegration is very good,” according to the lawsuit. “He is not unsafe to himself or others, and is maturing by his voluntary participation in program and education.”
The boy should be released, both because of his progress and because of concerns about his health and other issues, the complaint argues.
Mitchell credited Jim and Jennifer Campbell for closely monitoring their son’s progress and care, diligently following court orders and fighting for the boy’s rights. Many parents of children in the justice system don’t have the time or money — or the inclination — to do that, he said.
“If they did,” Mitchell added, “it would be a much better place.”
Contact Cynthia Miller at 505-986-3095 or firstname.lastname@example.org.