It took two days for Manuel and Amy Martinez to convince their son to tell them the truth.
The boy, a senior at Española Valley High School diagnosed with autism, had come home Nov. 17 with multiple bruises across his stomach, back and chest. At first, he would not say how he got them.
“We had to keep asking him,” Amy Martinez said. “We told him, ‘If somebody sees you with those bruises at school, they’re going to think mom and dad did it.’”
Finally, he told them. It was the same student who had drawn on his arms and neck months before and had continued to bully him.
The Martinezes immediately sent an email to Española School District administrators, including Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez and High School Principal Victoria Gonzales, including photos of the bruising and asking them to investigate the battery.
After an emergency Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting was held to ensure their son was still receiving services, they expected the District would investigate the situation and hold the bully accountable.
Over the next two months, though, District personnel produced secret investigation reports not available to the Martinezes and prevented Española Police Department officers from investigating the bullying themselves, while sending the parents letters threatening them with litigation, according to District and Department records, as well as interviews with the parents, school and police officials.
Manuel Martinez said that during the IEP meeting, Gonzales recused herself from the investigation because she had a close familial relationship with the alleged bully’s mother, Abiquiú Elementary Principal Yvette Bakken.
Soon after, the Martinezes said, they began telling what happened to District Safety and Security Manager Donald Lopez, who began to take notes for a report on the matter. A Nov. 22 email from Gonzales also confirms Lopez was starting an investigation.
However, Gutierrez sent the parents an email one week later stating that neither Lopez nor any District employee would be investigating the claims of battery.
“After reviewing the documentation gathered so far, I contacted our legal counsel today, and he recommended a neutral investigator to work on the investigation given all the ties and family connections associated with this case,” she wrote.
The investigator was Richard A. Martinez, no relation, who worked as a private investigator for Santa Fe law firm Rothstein Donatelli at the time. Emails show the District’s attorney, Geno Zamora, hired Richard Martinez for the investigation.
The Martinezes said they immediately retained an attorney and were concerned what affect the investigator would have, since he was being paid by the District.
“There’s no neutrality at all,” Amy Martinez said.
They said their son, accompanied by his speech therapist, spoke with Richard Martinez while they waited outside the room. They said Richard Martinez never asked them any questions during the course of his investigation. They said they still do not know what questions he asked their son.
On Jan. 12, Gutierrez sent the Martinezes an email with the findings of Richard Martinez’s investigation.
“The investigators were unable to find any facts that substantiate the allegations,” she wrote.
Then, in a move that shocked the Martinezes, Gutierrez said there were additional findings.
“On the contrary, the interviews found no witnesses to any bullying or battery,” she wrote. “There also was substantial testimony that your son is good friends with the accused students.”
Manuel Martinez said he was surprised that she wrote there was no evidence of battery, since they had sent photos of their son’s bruises to the District. He also said his son’s autism prevents him from distinguishing friends from bullies.
“It just didn’t make sense, because his (IEP) team was very concerned that he cannot tell if he’s being bullied,” he said.
One week later, they sent a public records request to the District, asking for all reports and records produced by Richard Martinez and Lopez during the investigation. The District denied them all records, stating that the investigation was concerning another student and that they were confidential.
The District’s record custodian, Alexis Vigil, also wrote that because Richard Martinez had been hired by school attorneys, all his records were subject to attorney-client privilege.
Manuel Martinez said he believes the District violated public records laws by denying him all records.
“My child’s a victim of assault and battery by a known bully and they could’ve redacted the names,” he said. “I need to know the depth of the investigation.”
Richard Martinez said in a Feb. 24 phone call that he had training on interviewing children with autism “to a certain extent.” When asked what he meant, he hung up the phone.
Manuel Martinez said his son has struggled since the bullying took place. His son’s autistic behaviors, like talking to himself and flapping his hands, have started happening more often.
“Everybody’s noticing that he’s lost focus,” he said. “His anxiety is up. He’s flapping a lot. The self-talk has really gone crazy.”
He said he is also worried because he is still not sure how long the bullying was going on before they found bruises.
“This wasn’t a one-time thing, punch him in the arm and walk away,” he said. “This was ongoing.”
After the District hired Richard Martinez, the Martinezes reached out to Española police on Dec. 6 to investigate the battery.
Officer Danny Pacheco responded to their call and set up a time to talk with Bakken and her son about the alleged battery. Neither one of them showed.
He then went to Gonzales to ask her for information on the accused student, according to a report filed by Pacheco. Gonzales refused to give him any information on the student.
“I was advised by Mrs. Gonzales the incident was not founded and she was not going to give me the information on (the student),” Pacheco wrote.
In his report, Pacheco wrote that he could not complete his investigation because he was not able to speak with Bakken or her son.
Sgt. Jeremy Apodaca, public information officer for the Department, said in a Tuesday phone call they are investigating the District to figure out why information was not provided to the police.
“I don’t understand why the school wouldn’t give information on that situation,” he said. “I would say it’s a form of obstruction.”
He said while no charges for obstruction have been filed yet, that may change depending on the school’s reasoning for denying information.
Manuel Martinez said he cannot figure out why Gonzales said the allegations were unfounded, since she had recused herself weeks earlier.
“The investigator hadn’t even done his investigation,” he said. “So where did she come up with that?”
After Pacheco released his report, the Martinezes filed a tort claim notice Jan. 22 against the District, alleging school personnel had not done enough to protect their son from a bully.
The Martinezes said they believe the District attempted to cover up the bullying since the perpetrator was the son of an administrator. Manuel said the same kind of treatment is rarely give to special education students.
“If it was one of our kids (that bullied), they would’ve called State Police and taken them away,” he said.
After they sent the tort claim notice, the Martinezes said District personnel allegedly began to retaliate.
On Jan. 21, the District received an anonymous letter criticizing the special education services of the District, while making many personal accusations about District employees.
The District’s attorneys wrote a letter to the Martinezes Jan. 31, stating they believe the parents had wrote the letter and the District “may have to take serious steps to further protect its employees.” The letter also accuses the Martinezes of violating District policy on multiple occasions.
The Martinezes said they have never violated policy, nor have they been told that they had. Zamora said he had no comment when asked why the District thought the parents penned the anonymous letter.
“The District has privacy obligations under FERPA,” he said referring to a federal law to protect student educational records.
When reminded that the letter does not focus on the students, Zamora said he was “not comfortable responding to that on the record.”
In 2019, the Public Education Department cited the District multiple times for violations of special education law. The Martinezes have filed another special education complaint with the state.
Gutierrez and Gonzales both declined to be interviewed for this article, citing pending litigation against the District. Gonzales’s secretary, Vickie Martinez, said Gonzales was directed to not speak to the media, but said she does not know by whom.
Manuel Martinez said he hopes First Judicial District Attorney Marco Serna and state Attorney General Hector Balderas open an investigation.