Texts: Secretary encouraged students to attend hearing

Aztec High School secretary instructed class president via texts to tell classmates to appear at court hearing for drama teacher

Steve Garrison
An Aztec High School secretary told a student to encourage his classmates to attend a court hearing to support a drama teacher accused earlier this year of child sexual abuse, according to text messages obtained by The Daily Times.
  • High school secretary Kimberly Garcia told a student to get as many students as possible to attend a hearing for drama teacher Shane Kirkland.
  • About two dozen students attended the hearing, which upset prosecutors and caused the judge to close the hearing to the public.
  • The mother of the alleged victim says she was upset students attended the hearing, adding her son has been harassed after reporting the alleged abuse to police.
  • The superintendent of the Aztec Municipal School District says the district will investigate the secretary's actions to determine whether she violated district policies.

FARMINGTON — An Aztec High School employee told the school's junior class president to encourage fellow students to attend a Sept. 1 court hearing to support Shane Kirkland, a 22-year-old drama teacher accused in June of child sexual abuse, according to text messages obtained by The Daily Times.

High school secretary Kimberly Garcia told the student in the messages, which appear to have been sent the day before Kirkland's preliminary examination hearing, to get as many students as possible to attend the 8 a.m. hearing at Aztec Magistrate Court.

She told the junior class president in the messages that students should bring signs supporting the drama teacher, but no negative signs about the 15-year-old alleged victim, who she called a "butt head."

She also told the student the attendees' parents would need to provide her with a permission note to attend the hearing.

The student told Garcia he sent a group text message to 20 people and urged students to attend the hearing on Snapchat, an image messaging service.

About two dozen students attended the hearing, which upset the county's prosecutors and caused Judge Trudy Reed-Chase to close the hearing, except to a limited number of the involved parties' family members and friends.

The judge eventually ruled there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Kirkland for sexual abuse.

Garcia did not respond to an email or phone message seeking comment.

The Daily Times obtained copies of the text messages from the Bloomfield Police Department through a request under the state's Inspection of Public Records Act.

Bloomfield police detective Carlos Loomis said last week that Garcia allowed him to search her phone at the court hearing, and he took photos of the secretary's communications with the student.

"We had heard there was a text message that went around to several students at the school, so we started looking into it," Loomis said.

Loomis said he spoke with the junior class president, who confirmed Garcia encouraged him to bring students to the hearing.

San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien said the communication between the secretary and the junior class president was part of the reason the hearing was closed. He said Garcia's actions weren't criminal, but the students' presence intimidated the alleged victim, who was required to testify in detail about the alleged sexual abuse.

"It appeared they were attempting to intimidate the victim," O'Brien said. "That had a negative impact on the administration of justice."

Kirkland's defense attorney, Mark Curnutt, said Friday that he has not seen all of the text messages sent between the secretary and student, so he could not comment on the communication.

But he said the courts are open to the public so individuals may engage with the judicial process, and Kirkland's case was an example of that.

Judge tosses sex abuse case against teacher

Rochelle Meador-Gallegos, the mother of the alleged victim, said she was upset students attended the hearing.

"It was personal and private, and there are all these children there," she said.

Meador-Gallegos said her son was ostracized and harassed after he told police about the alleged sexual abuse, which has caused him to become depressed and withdrawn.

She said her son had to move out of the state to escape the harassment.

"My biggest fear is that my son will never be able to be the child in my home anymore, because he only has two more years left, and he can't attend school here," Meader-Gallegos said.

Aztec Municipal School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter previously denied the school had a role in the students' attendance but said students younger than 18 were allowed to attend the hearing with a parent's permission.

He said Friday the school district had not seen the text messages sent between the secretary and the junior class president, but he reiterated the school district did not facilitate the students' attendance at the hearing.

"That employee is an individual, who lives in society, and has her own ability to act as an individual," Carpenter said last week. "In no way was she acting on behalf of the school district."

He said the school district would investigate the secretary's actions to determine whether she violated the district's policies.

"These are things that are just now coming to our attention," he said. "It's things we cannot ignore."

Kirkland remains on paid administrative leave.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.