Family of Drowned Girl Plans to File Lawsuit Against Amarillo Police

AMARILLO - The family of a young autistic girl who drowned in an Amarillo lake last year is suing the police.

One year ago tomorrow, Alexis Wartena, 7, went missing from an east Amarillo motel while her family was passing through town.

Now the family is suing three APD officers, Lieutenant Scott Chappell, Sergeant Thomas Callahan, and Sergeant Chris Sheffield.

The lawsuit cites a deprivation of rights and the family is seeking $14 million.

The three officers named in the suit were allegedly the officers leading the search for Alexis when she went missing.

You may remember police alerted media about her disappearance as they searched for her.

Wednesday marks the one year anniversary of Alexis' initial disappearance.

She and her family were staying at the Kiva Hotel in east Amarillo when Alexis apparently wandered off.

Police searched the area for hours and her body was found the next day in T Anchor lake which is right behind the hotel.

The Wartena family attorney, Jesse Quackenbush, said the officers wasted valuable time in the search because they did not have the proper training when it comes to dealing with missing autistic children.

"Instead of listening to the family that their autistic daughter was missing and they needed help, they were immediately accused of being murderers, segregated into separate rooms, refused to allow them to search for their own daughter, and then continued with the tortuous questions and accusations for over 11 hours," stated Quackenbush.

Quackenbush tells us with proper training the officers named in the suit would have known to concentrate their search efforts on the lake.

Last year when they filed their initial complaint against the city, the family was seeking $1.5 million in damages and close to a half million more for attorneys fees.

The Wartenas were traveling with five children in all. The other four were taken by CPS for a short time after the incident but were eventually released back into the custody of their family.

That's another issue the family had with police.



On July 19, 2017, exactly one year from the accidental drowning death of seven year old Alexis Wartena, her parents Michael Wartena and Michael Tiffany Stewart, (plan to) have filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Amarillo Police Officers who they allege mentally tortured them, wrongly accused them of murder and prevented them from searching for their autistic daughter.

According to the Wartena family attorney, Jesse Quackenbush, “[W]hat happened to the family was atrocious and amounted to nothing less than government sponsored torture.” Quackenbush was hired by the family shortly after the parents were forced into detention and interrogation and their children were taken away by Child Protective Services. Quackenbush immediately contacted Amarillo Police Department and demanded the return of his client’s belongings and children. A few days later, the children were released from custody and the family returned to California with the cremated remains of Alexis.

“This whole situation could have been avoided had Amarillo Police Department invested the time and effort into training its first responders about the realities of autistic children and their known behavior when they go missing, including being attracted to water. Instead, we have untrained officers exacerbating the problem with their ignorance and hell-bent inclinations to act like thugs with tunnel vision,” according to Quackenbush.

Quackenbush also stated, “(T)raining is absolutely free through the National Autism Association. Yet, a year has passed and APD has done absolutely nothing. Perhaps this lawsuit will motivate the Mayor and City Council to take action to prevent future deaths of autistic children who go missing.”

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