Saturday, August 27, 2011

Juvenile probation managers on leave over photos

FARMINGTON — The chief and a supervisor of the Farmington juvenile probation are under investigation after three photographs taken in 2009 surfaced last week showing them holding handguns and flashing gang signs in the Farmington office of Juvenile Probation and Parole.

Chief Heather Faverino and Supervisor Krista Lawrence were placed on administrative leave Friday after Children, Youth and Families Department officials were made aware of the pictures.

"Our initial understanding is that the guns are soft-pellet guns," said Enrique Knell, spokesman for the department. "The photos were likely taken during a light moment in the office in a joking manner. However, given the serious nature of our work at CYFD, the photos are, at the very least, inappropriate."

One photograph depicts Faverino mugging for the camera while making a gang sign with her right hand.

Another shows both Faverino, who is holding what appears to be a black gun, and Lawrence flashing a gang sign. The third includes both women holding what appear to be handguns. A Raiders pennant hangs in the backdrop of two of the pictures.

The investigation will determine what discipline is appropriate, up to possible termination, Knell said.

Knell was unclear if any agency policies were violated, but said the agency will continue to investigate. He was unsure how long the investigation will take.

"This is nothing but a training tool that has been blown way out of proportion by some disgruntled employees," Attorney Steve Murphy said speaking on behalf of Faverino and Lawrence.

The employees, Murphy added, "are trying to get their job back and discredit these two hard working probation officers by sending around this photograph that they were using for training purposes."

Part of their work with the department includes giving presentations to kids, families, community members and teachers.

Both Faverino and Lawrence contend that they were taken for the purpose of being used as training.

"These were light-hearted pictures for our purposes in teaching gang awareness," Faverino said. "Not only do we use humor, but we show graffiti and gang signs."

By depicting themselves looking ridiculous holding guns and flashing the gang signs, "it opens the door to discuss the perception of how photographs stay with you and stereotypes you," Faverino said.

The point was to teach the kids so that they could discourage them from posting similar pictures on Facebook and Twitter, she said.

The pictures, however, never made it into a presentation.

Both Lawrence and Faverino believed they were immediately deleted.

"We have done nothing wrong," Faverino said. "There is nothing illegal about these pictures."

The pictures were taken by an employee who no longer works for the office, she said.

The two women questioned how the photographs surfaced, two years after they were taken.

No children or families were present at the time.

The airsoft guns were confiscated from juveniles in the probation system.

"Our protocol is that any ime a weapon is found, the police have to be called to take custody of the weapon," Knell said.

The women confirmed that any illegal item confiscated from children — probation officers often conduct in-home searches — are handed over to the police.

Legal items such as an airsoft gun, however, is kept by officials and likely released back to the child or family once the child is off probation or parole, Faverino said. Records are kept of all confiscated items.

These particular guns were confiscated sometime in 2006 or 2007 and juvenile probation employees, at the time the photographs were shot, were in the process of clearing out such items.

Faverino has worked for Juvenile Probation and Parole for 15 years, having started as a probation officer and working her way to supervisor and eventually chief. She is the chief for the 11th Judicial District, which encompasses San Juan and McKinley counties.

Lawrence has worked in the agency for 10 years and also began as a probation officer, Lawrence said.

"They have a good reputation in CYFD and they don't have a history of being disruptive or getting in trouble on the job," Knell said.

Scott Darnell, press secretary for the governor's office, issued a statement late Friday:

"The activities of the employees in these photos are completely inappropriate and will not be tolerated," Darnell said. "This is a facility and agency that is charged with projecting a positive example for our kids and families. Employees will be held to the highest standard in this administration. This situation will be investigated quickly and wrongdoing will be punished.

Both Faverino and Lawrence said that they are invested in the families and kids they work with daily.

"We're passionate about the work we do here," Lawrence said.

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