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Investigated for custodial interference

Crystal Nuttle (Photo courtesy of Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)

Crystal Nuttle (Photo courtesy of Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office)

State Senate hopeful says she was justified in helping mother take child from CPS

A Republican exploring a run for state Senate was booked into Maricopa County jail this month on suspicion of helping a mother take her 6-year-old son from the custody of Child Protective Services during a supervised visit in Tucson.

Crystal Nuttle of Glendale, 55, who filed her committee for Legislative District 29 near the end of April, was arrested along with Debbie Ramos, 49, Paula Flowe, 56, and Teketa Riley, 37, the mother of the 6-year-old boy. Ramos is listed as Nuttle’s campaign treasurer. The district covers portions of Glendale and west Phoenix. 

Court records show that the four women each face a felony charge of custodial interference and, in addition, Ramos is facing two counts of misdemeanor assault.

Sgt. Chris Widmer, a spokesman for the Tucson Police Department, confirmed that the Glendale address Nuttle listed for her campaign is the same address listed for her in police arrest records.

Nuttle, Ramos and Flowe are suspected of helping Riley escape with her son by causing a distraction in the lobby of Aviva Children’s Services, a company that the state contracts with to facilitate supervised visitation. While one of the women caused a disturbance, the police report says Riley walked out the front door with her son. The woman causing the distraction then followed Riley into the getaway vehicle parked outside and the four women drove away with the boy, the report said.

Riley and Flowe have been transferred to Pima County Jail and are being held on $10,000 bail each. Nuttle appears to have been released from jail on $50,000 bond. Pima County Consolidated Justice Court records show an outstanding warrant for Ramos, with bail set at $250,000. However, Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Joaquin Enriquez confirmed that Ramos is still in custody. Riley, Flowe and Nuttle are tentatively expected back in court Aug. 19, but an appearance date has not yet been set for Ramos.

Nuttle confirmed that she did help Riley take her son from CPS and that she was arrested for doing so. However, she believes that she and the three other women did so lawfully under a state statute that allows, under very specific circumstances, for a parent to take a child from the custody of the other parent if there is “good faith and reasonable belief” that the child is in danger.

That statute, ARS 13-1302, does not allow for a parent to remove a child from the custody of an institution and only allows for the removal of the child from the other parent if custody has not yet been determined or if the parents share custody.

Nuttle said the women were removing Riley’s son from an abusive foster parent and that they can prove it, though she would not give details other than that they have “clear and convincing exhibits” proving the abuse. Nuttle also accused CPS of generally kidnapping children from their parents and selling them into sex slavery.

“Anyone with a moral code, if they know what we did about this child, would do the same thing,” she said.

Police records give the following account of what happened:

An employee of Aviva Children’s Services told police that she was escorting Riley and her son to a visitation area on July 26 when they encountered a disturbance in the lobby. Riley was already on “very strict visitation restrictions.” A woman, who would later be identified through Facebook pictures as Ramos, was causing a distraction by shouting at members of the staff and trying to hand out religious literature.

Riley then told the Aviva employee that her ride, a white Nissan registered to Nuttle, had arrived. With her son still in her arms, Riley left the building and got into the car with a woman later identified as Flowe and an unidentified driver.

The employee followed and told Riley “not to do it like this” before Ramos pushed her out of the way and the car drove off.

The group was later tracked to Nuttle’s Glendale home, where her car was found. According to the police report, Riley, who was detained when she walked outside the home, admitted to taking her son and told officers that Nuttle and Ramos were with her when she did it. Nuttle was detained later when she also left her house.

Rosalie Triviz, an LD29 precinct committeewoman, encouraged Nuttle to run for office and had hoped she would “take down Steve Gallardo,” a Democrat and the current LD29 senator. But over time, she became uneasy with Nuttle’s ideas and activities and felt that something was “just not right,” about her.

Triviz said she was a ward of the state as a child, and Nuttle’s rhetoric about children being kidnapped and abused by CPS didn’t track with her experiences.

“This is an embarrassment to my district… We don’t break the law. We are trying to change the law,” she said.

Nuttle’s campaign website says she has been on the “battlefields of the Superior Court Justice System” and “has seen first-hand the devastation inflicted on families by the hands of Judges, Lawyers, Psychologists, Counselors, Child Protective Service and Law-enforcement.”

Court records show that in 1996, Nuttle was convicted of custodial interference, a class 6 felony, for fleeing with her two children after a court awarded her husband full custody in their divorce.

Nuttle was sentenced to 360 hours of community service, three years of probation and was ordered to pay court fees and about $3,000 in restitution to her husband.

Her probation was extended for another three years in 1999 because she had not paid the court fees or restitution. Though her probation appears to have been terminated in 2002, she was ordered as recently as 2006 to pay the restitution she still owed.

Matt Roberts, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said that voting rights are revoked after a felony conviction, meaning that person is not a “qualified elector” and is ineligible to run for office. If it is the first felony, Roberts said that after all the terms of the sentence are satisfied, civil rights are automatically restored and the felon must simply re-register to vote.

Maricopa County elections officials confirmed that Nuttle is registered to vote in LD29 and has been registered since 2002.

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