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APD withholding public records about shootings

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Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

The Albuquerque Police Department hasn’t provided 911 calls, lapel camera videos or other documents relating to a recent spate of officer-involving shootings, often asking for indefinite delays without reason, denying requests by citing “ongoing investigations” and keeping one request “under review” for unspecified reasons.

The Journal has made nine requests under the state Inspection of Public Records Act since late October for records relating to the shootings. Public agencies have three days to acknowledge having received an IPRA request, and, after that, they are required to produce the responsive documents within 15 days unless they determine the request is “excessively broad or burdensome” or exempt from disclosure. If agencies say a record is exempt, they must provide the specific exemption under the law.

In one case, the department has said that is unclear whether an officer’s lapel camera video was ever tagged into evidence, though APD interim chief Allen Banks showed a still from the video during a news conference.

In a statement, deputy city attorney Kathryn Levy said it is withholding some records temporarily to avoid compromising ongoing criminal investigations.

“APD does not deny public records requests but there are times when it must withhold the release of information, documents, videos, and audiotapes to avoid compromising the integrity of criminal investigations,” Levy said in an email. “… The Inspection of Public Records Act specifically recognizes the law enforcement records exception. Public records are released as soon as they are no longer necessary to the investigation.”

Greg Williams, an attorney for the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said there is no exemption for ongoing investigations, only for records that would divulge police tactics, confidential information or identify people before they are charged with a crime.

“Just because an investigation is going doesn’t mean any piece of paper touching that investigation is exempted from IPRA,” Williams said.

The department has provided one basic computer-aided dispatch report that the Journal requested relating to the Oct. 26 case involving 35-year-old Christopher Chase, who died of gunshot wounds after shooting several officers and leading police on a 16-mile police chase in a stolen APD cruiser

Among the information not yet provided by the department are:

  • 911 calls regarding the Oct. 26 police chase involving Chase. The department has said that request, filed Oct. 29, is “under review” and gave no indication as to when it would be filled or denied.
  • Lapel camera video that captures the Oct. 28 officer-involved shooting involving APD officer Brian Pitzer. That request, filed Nov. 1, has not yet been filled because APD says it’s not been confirmed yet whether Pitzer’s lapel camera video has been tagged into evidence. Banks showed a still from the video at a news conference after the shooting.
  • Lapel camera video from a Nov. 15 officer-involved shooting involving APD officer Peter Romero. That request was denied due to an “ongoing investigation.”
  • Documents relating to a Dec. 1 officer-involved shooting near Northeastern and Wyoming involving APD officers Luke McPeek, David Muñoz and Jim Edison. The request was also denied due to an “ongoing investigation.”

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