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Confusion reigns over public access to APD oversight communications

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — All sides in a yearslong Albuquerque police reform effort have asked the federal judge overseeing the process to clarify what the city should do when it receives public records requests for documents, such as communications between the monitor overseeing the reforms and police officials.

The city, in a joint motion filed in court last week, said it has received requests for such records.

The settlement agreement between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice says that communications between the city and the monitor shouldn’t be made public.

But documents such as emails to city officials and drafts of reports are public records under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act, said Peter St. Cyr, the executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.

“The city is in a catch-22 situation as it tries to follow both the state public records law and the Settlement Agreement, which is a federal court order,” City Attorney Jessica Hernandez said in an email.

‘We want to make sure that we satisfy our obligations under both, but they say different things on this issue. That is why all parties — the City, the DOJ, the APOA, and the Monitor — joined together in asking for clarification from the Court on whether the City would be in violation of the Settlement Agreement if it produces the requested records.”

The motion said that an order by U.S. District Judge Robert Brack, who is presiding over the reform effort, would help the city in its response to some records requests or if the city is sued for not producing the records.

Albuquerque police are in the midst of a yearslong reform effort brought on by a DOJ investigation, which found Albuquerque police had a pattern of excessive force.

Throughout the reform process, James Ginger, the independent monitor, and his team have met with police officials, studied police documents and written reports outlining the department’s progress. He has often submitted drafts of reports to the parties in the case before a final version is filed in court.

The Journal has requested this year’s communications between the monitor and city and police officials, as well as  drafts of official reports that Ginger has submitted to the city. The city hasn’t produced the records.

Peter St. Cyr

St. Cyr said drafts of documents aren’t exempt from public records requests and would provide the public with additional insight in how the reform effort is going.

“Until this complex conflict is resolved, the city is still obligated under state law to comply with the state Inspection of Public Records Act,” St. Cyr said.

In its official response denying the Journal access to those records, the city cited an exemption in the state public record’s law and a specific paragraph in the settlement agreement that said communications between the parties and the monitor shouldn’t be made public.

The city’s response also said it is seeking guidance about what to do with future records requests from a federal court.

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