Alexis Wartena Was Missing And Cops Took Charge

From the news reports the day after the parents of 7-year-old autistic Alexis Wartena called the Amarillo police to report their daughter was missing, one would think they’re heroes.

Police said Wartena is non-verbal autistic but will answer to her name. Her family is from out-of-state and was passing through Amarillo. There are five children in the family and Wartena’s parents said they took their eyes off the child for a few minutes and she left the hotel room.

Tuesday evening, law enforcement officers flooded the area, searching for her. Police K-9s were brought in, officers were on horse back and the Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter, as well as tracking dogs were bought in to assist in the search. A room-to-room search of the motel was also conducted. They also searched vehicles in the parking lot.

If one stops at the myriad things being done to find this little girl, it would be a tragic situation, and the police response would be as much as one could hope for.  Thank the lord for the cops, protecting and serving, helping, being there when you need them.

What is particularly notable is that this child was autistic, non-verbal, and the police appear to have a good grasp on the significance of Alexis Warteno’s disabilities, This is a far cry from cops’ ignorance of austism, leading them to harm autistic children for their failure to react, take commands, behave as police demand. Living while autistic, like living while deaf, blind, diabetic, mentally ill or any other condition that isn’t what the police anticipate, turns any police interaction into a life or death crapshoot.

But here, an autistic girl went missing and the Amarillo police announce that they’re doing everything possible to help.  As it turns out, they did more than everything, but they left that part out of their press release.

[Amarillo attorney Jesse] Quackenbush said he has filed a formal complaint with Amarillo Interim Police Chief Ed Drain, alleging that after APD officers arrived at the hotel they stopped the parents from continuing their own independent search for their daughter, “and began a six hour investigation designed to mentally torture the mother into a confession,” according to the complaint.

Furthermore, his letter claims, the mother was “repeatedly tortured emotionally” by “accusations of murdering her daughter.”

Characterizing what happened as emotional torture may be a bit peculiar. What they did was leap immediately to the assumption that the parents were somehow responsible for the missing child, thus committing three errors. First, they failed to listen to the parents, who tried to provide them with critical information that would help the police to understand the behaviors of this child in particular and autistic children in general.

Second, the resources that should have been directed toward finding a missing child before she turned up dead were diverted toward trying to manufacture a crime where none occurred, and coercing parents into admitting commission of a crime that never happened.

Third, the parents, naturally overwrought at their missing child, were precluded from doing the one thing parents need to do under the circumstances, which is try to find their child.

And there is a fourth thing, though it’s totally speculative. Had the Amarillo police not gone straight to the parents as murderers assumption, Alexis Wartena might have been found at nearby T-Anchor Lake before she drowned.  It may have been too late by the time the first officer arrived. It may not.

But beyond holding the parents in custody, putting their effort into coercing a confession while ignoring the two people with the best information to find this little girl, the Amarillo cops wielded their bludgeon without mercy.

The formal complaint goes on to outline alleged threats and intimidation against the parents, including “criminal prosecutions and loss of custody of their children unless they submitted hair, fingerprint and blood samples.”

“All of [the Wartena’s] personal belongs were seized, probably without a warrant, and definitely without probable cause or consent,” the letter said, which is an alleged violation of the couple’s Fourth Amendment Constitutional rights which guard against unreasonable search and seizure.

And the Wartenas’ other four children were taken away from the parents, because that somehow made sense to the cops and Child Protective Services when parents lose their daughter.

After Alexis was found, the Wartenas said Child Protective Services removed the other four children from their custody. Multiple family members have attempted to regain custody of the children but have been denied.

The children were finally returned, after one was found with marks demonstrating physical abuse during a visit.

It was during one of the visits that the mom says she noticed something on her son’s body.

“We noticed a couple of marks on my son Robert’s neck and I lifted up his shirt and turned him around and he had bruises on his back,” said Stewart.

A CPS spokesman tells us that’s because the son had been physically abused at the foster home. The mom says she doesn’t know who or why this was done to her son and she says her son won’t talk about it. Because of that incident the CPS spokesman says there was no need to keep the kids from their parents.

Stewart says if she had not noticed the bruising on her son’s body she wouldn’t have had her kids today. She says they were going to release them tomorrow.

And so the Wartenas, who stopped in an Amarillo hotel on their way home from a vacation trip to Chicago, leave with one less child, one inexplicably harmed child, their property illegally seized, subjected to coercive interrogation, and, apparently, broke.  At every stage of this utter fiasco, the police, CPS, the official voices of government, can offer a perfectly reasonable explanation for their actions, all of which will comport with the desires and demands of well-intended people who believe they are helping, protecting children.

What caused the Amarillo police who responded to the 911 call of a missing child to do everything possible to make sure the child ended up dead rather than found, and to inflict as much “emotional torture” as possible on the surviving family?  The knee-jerk reaction will likely be that cops are evil, malicious or stupid. And while that may be true in small measure, it isn’t the root cause of what happened to the Wartenas.

Had it turned out that the Wartenas had done harm to their beautiful 7-year-old autistic child and the police had left the other four children in their hands, they would have been blamed for their failure and incompetence.  Then, the police wouldn’t have been the heroes, but failures. The cops chose the path they perceived as most likely to make them come off blameless.

H/T PINAC (note that I do not link to PINAC, due to the autostart advertising videos and the malicious popup ads. Much as I appreciate Carlos Miller’s contributions, I will never go to or link to PINAC again because of this.)

5 thoughts on “Alexis Wartena Was Missing And Cops Took Charge

  1. Steven St.Jean

    Very insightful, especially the conclusion. May I make a suggestion regarding the last paragraph? The third-person plural pronoun (they/their/them) is used five times, but the only grammatically available antecedent is “the Wartenas”. It confused me the first time I read it. I would suggest something like this for the first sentence: “Had it turned out that the Wartenas had done harm to their beautiful 7-year-old autistic child and the police had left the other four children in their hands, they would have been blamed for their failure and incompetence.”

  2. Donna

    We’re living in a Dickens’ novel: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”
    We have all the super technology to help people, but man is a brute without a lick of sense.

  3. chris wolfe

    Their first duty is to the living (or shall we say the potentially living), not to vengeance. Playing ‘what if’ games does not justify the actions of CPS and certainly not the actions of police.

    “A CPS spokesman tells us that’s because the son had been physically abused at the foster home.”
    This foster parent is surely in prison for child abuse, yes? If not, why not? How were they approved, and has the approval process undergone revision to prevent future child abusers from gaining state-sponsored access to fresh victims? Clearly the foster system is a greater risk to children than being in the custody of parents of a missing child. In-person observation (by a police officer or a case worker) during the search could have achieved their (theoretical) goal of protecting the remaining children without exposing them to further harm.

    High-pressure interrogation tactics may be appropriate in a kidnapping or some other situation with immediate danger to others (bomb threat, etc.). Such tactics are never appropriate when a family has reported their child missing and is mounting their own search. If the police are suspicious then nothing prevents them from accompanying the parents, even if it is merely under the guise of assisting the search. At worst a murderous parent would be given plenty of opportunity to make mistakes under direct observation. The more likely result is that the parents’ close relationship with the missing child will improve the odds of locating them.

    “The cops chose the path they perceived as most likely to make them come off blameless.”
    Inexcusable. Predictable. Outrageous.
    In a just society the standard would be that they should choose the path they perceived as most likely to recover the child alive, because that child’s life is more valuable than an easier prosecution if the parents turn out to be murderers.
    We live in a society where police officers openly execute unarmed civilians who are complying with their orders, are videotaped in the act, admit their actions and yet continue to serve as armed police officers. The threat to an officer’s career posed by ‘being perceived as allowing the risk of harm to children’ is essentially zero. Risking the life of a child just to try to score a high-pressure confession is simply inexcusable.

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