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Update: Farmington Schools and Police issue belated statements on sex case, shooting threat

New Mexico Foundation for Open Government releases statement calling for actions to be taken by district
Farmington Municipal Schools is a public school district in Farmington, New Mexico that currently serves 11,182 students, according to the district's website. Within the month of May, two schools in the district were the subjects of criminal activity on school grounds. (Alx Lee/Tri-City Record)

Two weeks after the Tri-City Record reported an alleged sexual assault of two students at Hermosa Middle School, the Farmington Police Department and Farmington Municipal Schools broke their silence and issued statements regarding the crime and investigation policies.

The Tri-City Record on May 23 reported that a substitute teacher was suspected of sexually molesting two girls.

On Wednesday about 4 p.m., Farmington Municipal Schools emailed the school community about the sex case. The Farmington Police Department issued a statement shortly after that announced the arrest of Jose Angel Nunez.

It was not the first time the school district remained silent about a recent case. On May 14, the district remained silent publicly about a shooting threat at Heights Middle School.

The Tri-City Record also recently learned about a case accusing a former Farmington High School finance secretary of embezzling $62,764.40 from the district. Again, school administrators remained silent.

Amanda Lavin is the new full-time attorney for the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.

The Tri-City Record contacted New Mexico Foundation for Open Government on May 30 and requested a statement regarding best practices for school districts in criminal cases such as the recent sex, violence and fraud cases, all of which were opened in less than a month.

"Schools have a moral and ethical obligation to notify parents immediately,” NMFOG said.

The group also issued a statement saying the state of New Mexico does not legally require schools “to notify the parents of school children when a school employee is charged with certain crimes that may put children at risk.”

However, NMFOG President Melanie Majors said that does not mean “schools cannot tell the parents if a school employee has been arrested and charged with crimes against children.”

NMFOG “believes that to promote accountability and transparency, perhaps school officials could adopt policies that mirror laws in our neighboring state.”

Majors said Colorado laws require schools “to notify parents of charges brought against an employee who has contact with students for a list of felony offenses including child abuse, crimes of violence like murder or kidnapping, unlawful sexual contact or sexual assault.”

Timeline

May 17: The Tri-City Record learned of a possible plan by a middle school student to carry out a school shooting. Farmington Police was contacted, and a verbal statement was given by spokeswoman Shanice Gonzales.

May 23: The Tri-City Record learned that Farmington Municipal Schools substitute teacher Jose Nunez was arrested May 22 and booked into the San Juan County Detention Center on two counts criminal sexual contact of a minor. The alleged incidents happened at Hermosa Middle School.

May 23: The Tri-City Record at 12:40 p.m. requested a statement from Farmington Municipal Schools spokesman Robert Taboada.

May 23: Taboada at 12:59 p.m. sends the following statement: “As soon as Farmington Municipal Schools learned about the situation, we followed our procedures and immediately contacted the police department. The substitute teacher has been placed on leave until the legal process is complete.”

May 27: The Tri-City Record learned a former school employee had been charged with embezzlement and was convicted Oct. 4, 2023 and sentenced April 9, 2024 to 4 years in prison. Court reports were accessed, and the Tri-City Record wrote a story about former Farmington High School finance secretary Tracy Padgett stealing more than $62,000 from the district to feed a gambling habit.

May 28: The Tri-City Record made an Inspection of Public Records Act request for the police report of the alleged Heights Middle School shooting plan.

May 29 The Tri-City Record contacted New Mexico Foundation for Open Government requesting opinions on Farmington Municipal Schools not being forthcoming with information regarding the alleged criminal activity.

May 30: The police report was received at 8:45 a.m., and the Tri-City Record learned there had been two lockdowns within two days involving alleged threats from the same student.

May 31: NMFOG issued a statement regarding the lack of transparency og Farmington Municipal Schools.

June 3: The Tri-City Record requested email or emails sent from Farmington Municipal Schools or Heights Middle School to parents of students attending Heights Middle School from May 14 to May 20 that involve the student threat to the middle school.

June 3: The Tri-City Record requested email or emails sent from Farmington Municipal Schools or Hermosa Middle School to parents of students attending Hermosa Middle School from May 17 to May 20 that involve the substitute teacher Jose Nunez and the child sexual assault charges.

June 3: The Tri-City Record requested an interview with FMS spokesman Robert Taboada. He declined.

June 4: The Tri-City Record requested a comment from FMS Superintendent Cody Diehl and Executive Director of Human Resources Chris Pash on the recent New Mexico Foundation of Open Government statement regarding the handling by Farmington Municipal Schools of recent criminal activity on school campuses.

June 5: FMS at 4 p.m. sent a letter to families and staff regarding its policy on releasing information to the public and stated it was looking at possibly changing those policies.

June 5: Farmington Police shortly after 4 p.m. issued a community alert about the alleged child sex crimes reportedly perpetrated by Jose Nunez on May 22 at Hermosa Middle School.

June 6: Farmington Municipal Schools at 10:30 a.m. sent six screen shots. Taboada stated they were dated as follows: one from May 14 at 4:05 p.m.; three from May 15 at 3:44 p.m., and two from May 20 at 11:08 a.m. The screenshots of communication to parents from Heights Principal Chris Jones about the alleged shooting threat.

June 6: The Tri-City Record at 1:54 p.m. requested a statement from Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office regarding the expectation of transparency for public school districts.

June 6: The Tri-City Record at 2:30 p.m. requested information from Farmington Municipal Schools attorney Daniel Castille regarding the expectation of transparency within the district and the current policies of transparency as well as access to public meetings, board retreats and employee summits.

After receiving the statement from NMFOG, the Tri-City Record on June 3 requested an interview with Robert Taboada, Farmington Municipal Schools public relation officer.

Taboada declined to be interviewed.

The Tri-City Record at 2:23 p.m. June 4, sent Taboada a copy of the statement from NMFOG and requested a statement from Superintendent Cody Diehl and Executive Director of Human Resources Christopher Pash.

Less than two hours later, FMS sent a letter to families stating the district is “dedicated to providing a secure and supportive environment for all.”

The letter further stated the district reports incidents or allegations involving staff or students to law enforcement, but not necessarily to parents.

“We don’t typically comment on open investigations, but we are considering changes to when we communicate with our families to include notices about staff charged with sexual abuse,” the letter said.

Jose Angel Nunez, 29, was arrested on suspicion of child sexual assault while working as a substitute teacher for Farmington Municipal Schools.

In the case of Nunez, 29, two female students reported alleged sexual abuse to their school social worker, who notified the Farmington Police Department.

The Tri-City Record requested a comment on the case from Taboada at 12:40 p.m. May 23. He responded at 12:59 p.m. May 23 with the following statement:

“As soon as Farmington Municipal Schools learned about the situation, we followed our procedures and immediately contacted the police department. The substitute teacher has been placed on leave until the legal process is complete.”

This was the only known communication the district had with the public regarding this case.

Hermosa Middle School

Farmington Police did not comment or issue a news release about the case until June 5. In the news release, police asked for the public’s assistance in the ongoing investigation:

“We urge parents to speak to their children and contact the Farmington Police Department Detective Division at 505-599-1005 if they have any information regarding any other potentially inappropriate contact involving Mr. Nunez.”

Police further stated, “The safety and well-being of our students is our top priority, and we are cooperating fully with FMS in this matter. We understand the concern and alarm that this situation may cause and assure the community that we are taking this matter very seriously.”

Two weeks earlier, parents of students at Heights Middle School raised concerns on social media about a threatened school shooting. Farmington Schools did not issue a statement about the possible threat.

The Tri-City Record contacted the Farmington Police Department on May 17 for information regarding the allegations, and learned that on May 14, a 12-year-old Heights Middle School wrote a note detailing his plans to carry out a school shooting.

Farmington Police Spokeswoman Shanice Gonzales stated that the case had been referred to Juvenile Probation.

The Tri-City Record had more questions regarding the alleged planned shooting, so an Inspection of Public Records Act request was made on May 28 for a copy of the police report, which was received at 8:45 a.m. May 30.

The police report detailed the plan and stated the child admitted to making the plan because he had been “bullied at school and was furious the school was not doing anything about it,” according to the police report.

The report stated the child told police "he did not intend to carry out this plan and made the statement out of anger.”

The father of the student, who holds a position at the district level, told the officer therapy assistance was being sought but it was taking some time for the student to be assessed.

Heights Middle School in Farmington

The report also showed that on May 15, Heights Middle School was locked down a second time when the same student reportedly sent a photograph to school administration of students standing outside by a fence behind the school.

The student wrote the word “bitches” on the photo and then reportedly told police he was angry with the students for ditching and with the administration for doing nothing about it.

At 10:30 a.m. June 6, Farmington Municipal Schools provided the Tri-City Record with five screenshots of statements made to parents by Heights Middle School Principal Chris Jones.

The first statement dated May 14 at 4:05 p.m. stated that the school was placed in preventative lockdown “due to a non-school related event that happened in the community.”

However, after reviewing police documents the Tri-City Record learned the lockdown was directly related to Jones finding the students threat of a shooting and turning it over to police.

A May 15 stated sent to parents addressed the second lockdown and stated the school “acted out of an abundance of caution to ensure everyone’s safety.”

A second message was sent on May 15 to let parents know the school was working on “improving our communication to ensure you receive information as promptly as possible through all available means.”

The last two messages were sent on May 20 and restated that lockdowns happened on those two dates.

Tracy Padgett, 55, of Farmington is a former Farmington Municipal Schools' employee who was sentenced to four years in prison for embezzlement.

In the third case, Tracy Padgett, 55, of Farmington, allegedly embezzled $62,764.40 from the district to feed a gambling addiction.

She was found guilty by a jury Oct. 4, 2023, of a single charge of second-degree felony embezzlement over $20,000.

Padgett was sentenced to four years in the Department of Corrections.

Farmington Municipal Schools did not issue a statement about the fraud case or the lost funds, which Padgett was ordered to repay.

In the letter sent June 5, the district noted that the school community might be concerned.

“We understand that these situations may still leave you feeling concerned. We share your worries and frustrations and are committed to keeping you informed to the best of our ability.”

The Tri-City Record requested a statement from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham concerning these incidents and the school district’s response. We did not receive a response.

The Tri-City Record requested a statement from Farmington Municipal School’s attorney, Daniel Castille, who did not disclose whether advice was given to the district.

“I’m sure you know that lawyers give confidential advice to their clients,” he said “Ethically, whether a lawyer gave advice on a particular subject, and what that advice might have been, he or she is not permitted to say.”

Castille referred Tri-City Record to Rule 16-106 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers, that says a lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives consent.

The Tri-City Record will update this article as new information becomes available.