Stunning $485 Million Verdict Awarded to a Child Sexually Abused in Acadia Healthcare Foster Care

A New Mexico jury awarded $485 million for negligence in Acadia Healthcare's foster care case.

Stunning $485 Million Verdict Awarded to a Child Sexually Abused in Acadia Healthcare Foster Care

ByCarolyn Casey, J.D.


Published on January 26, 2024

Stunning $485 Million Verdict Awarded to a Child Sexually Abused in Acadia Healthcare Foster Care

The Lawsuit

The girl’s court-appointed guardian filed a lawsuit in 2019 against Clarence Garcia and his wife, Debbie Garcia, the nonprofit Familyworks Inc., behavioral health provider Acadia Healthcare, and its CEO, Joey Jacobs. Defendants also included Acadia subsidiaries Youth and Family Centered Services of New Mexico Inc. and Desert Hills, a defunct children’s residential treatment center.

In the lawsuit, the guardian accuses the Acadia companies of failing to protect the young girl under their care. The filing states that Garcia repeatedly raped the child in 2018.

The complaint alleged that Familyworks selected, authorized, and certified Clarence and Debbie Garcia to provide care for the 8-year-old Bernalillo County girl. Familyworks placed the child into a treatment foster care home with the Garcias even though they knew Clarence Garcia was “sexually abusing and sexually assaulting foster children placed in his care.”

The complaint also asserted that Familyworks had unqualified employees, was understaffed, failed to adhere to policies and procedures, and showed a pattern and practice of simply placing foster kids to fill beds. The plaintiff’s filing also said some Familyworks foster families had incidents of physical and sexual assaults of foster children.

What is Acadia and its New Mexico Subs?

Acadia Healthcare is a huge behavioral healthcare services provider with a network of 250 facilities in 39 states and Puerto Rico. Acadia claims to be the largest standalone behavioral healthcare company in the U.S. Acadia’s market cap was $6.65 billion on July 14, 2023. The company’s stock declined after the July 7th verdict.

Youth and Family Centered Services, known as Desert Hills, operated in New Mexico as an Acadia Health sub. Desert Hills, now-defunct, was a residential treatment facility in New Mexico for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities and behavioral issues. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff stated that Desert Hills ran Familyworks, a state-licensed nonprofit that licensed, trained, and supported foster parents and children in treatment.

With the Acadia sub Desert Hills swimming in sexual abuse and violence accusations, the State revoked its license and shut down operations in 2019.

The Verdict

The jury issued its verdict after six or seven hours of deliberation following a two-week trial that focused on corporate negligence. The fact-finders comprised of community members awarded the plaintiff $485 million dollars, including hefty punitive damages.

Acadia Healthcare will pay the foster child who Garcia repeatedly raped, $80 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damage. The subsidiary, Youth and Family Centered Services, doing business as Desert Hills, and Familyworks will each pay $75 million in punitive damages. The jury also determined that Clarence Garcia the man who sexually abused his ward must pay $5 million in punitive damages.

Acadia Health said it would challenge the $485 million award, adding the award was far beyond reasonable expectations and comparable precedents. A company spokesman said the foster child “was not in the direct care of Desert Hills or any facility operated by Acadia, but was in a treatment foster care program managed by Familyworks,” a nonprofit organization for whom Desert Hills provided services.

Multiple Lawsuits Filed Against Acadia

Acadia’s troubles are not over. A lawyer said the $485 million case is only one of about 10 lawsuits his firm filed on behalf of children against Acadia. Clarence Garcia was accused of sexually assaulting children under his care in three of the lawsuits. Most of the cases have been resolved, with some pending and one going to trial in July or August.

Criminal Case Against Garcia

In addition to this civil lawsuit, Mr. Garcia's prosecutors criminally indicted him for his conduct with the young girl. The grand jury indictment says Garcia is charged with 13 criminal counts, including 11 counts of criminal sexual contact and two counts of child rape. The Bernalillo County girl whose guardian brought this case against Acadia was named in the criminal case as one of his alleged victims.

New Mexico prosecutor Rebeka Reyes announced a plea deal in January 2023. Mr. Garcia received a suspended 42-year sentence that includes five to 20 years of supervised probation. Reys stated that “it would have been extremely traumatic for these victims, in particular, to have to go through the process of testifying”. New Mexico sexual abuse law requires children to testify against their alleged abusers. Reyes added that all the victims were on board with the plea deal.

Garcia was arrested in April for probation violations. Officers found a book “with young children in suggestive poses,” bags of children’s stuffed animals, handgun accessories, countless knives, an axe, and a machete. He will be sentenced for the violations in August 2023 – he could be put behind bars.

About the author

Carolyn Casey, J.D.

Carolyn Casey, J.D.

Carolyn Casey is a seasoned professional with extensive experience in legal tech, e-discovery, and legal content creation. As Principal of WritMarketing, she combines her decade of Big Law experience with two decades in software leadership to provide strategic consulting in product strategy, content, and messaging for legal tech clients. Previously, Carolyn served as Legal Content Writer for Expert Institute, Sr. Director of Industry Relations at AccessData, and Director of Product Marketing at Zapproved, focusing on industry trends in forensic investigations, compliance, privacy, and e-discovery. Her career also includes roles at Iron Mountain as Head of Legal Product Management and Sr. Product Marketing Manager, where she led product and marketing strategies for legal services, and at Fios Inc as Sr. Marketing Manager, specializing in eDiscovery solutions.

Her early legal expertise was honed at Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, where she developed legal strategies for mergers, acquisitions, and international finance matters. Carolyn's education includes a J.D. from American University Washington College of Law, where she was a Senior Editor for the International Law Journal and participated in a pioneering China Summer Law Program. She also holds an AB in Political Science with a minor in art history from Stanford University. Her diverse skill set encompasses research, creative writing, copy editing, and a deep understanding of legal product marketing and international legal trends.

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