SANTA FE — New Mexico State Police are not releasing the results of an internal investigation into why state officers never filed charges against a Santa Fe school teacher who was accused of molesting students in 2012. The same teacher was charged in four years later by another police agency, and later convicted, after other students came forward.
The State Police claim records of the internal investigation are exempt from disclosure under the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act because they include “matters of opinion” in personnel files.
The Journal filed a complaint Wednesday with the state Attorney General’s Office against the state Department of Public Safety, of which the State Police are part, for the refusal to release any records from the probe.
State Police investigated former Santo Niño Regional Catholic School teacher Aaron Dean Chavez in 2012 after two female students told school officials that he groped them when they were in his first grade class in 2007.
Chavez was not charged and continued to teach at the school. In 2016 the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s arrested Chavez after more students came forward and said Chavez molested them. He was convicted of one count criminal sexual contact after a trial last year, and the jury was hung on two other identical charges.
In 2016 then-State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said there would be an internal investigation into why no charges were filed in 2012 after officers took a report from the students who made the allegations.
“Based on information we recently received from the Santa Fe County’s Sheriff’s Office, we have opened an internal investigation to find out why no further action was taken,” Kassetas said in a 2016 statement. “Again, we take this very seriously and any missteps on our part may result in disciplinary action.”
In an email Tuesday, Officer Ray Wilson, a State Police spokesman, refused to provide any details of the investigation or share any documents related to it.
“In accordance with The New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act The New Mexico State Police does not release information about Internal Affairs Investigations or Officer Discipline,” Wilson wrote.
Wilson cited a 2010 decision by the state Court of Appeals in an alleged IPRA violation case, Cox versus New Mexico Department of Public Safety, in his denial.
“This case makes it clear that matters relate to the employee’s working relationship with his or her employer are exempt from public information,” Wilson wrote.
New Mexico Foundation for Open Government Executive Director Melanie Majors said she doesn’t believe the information requested is exempt from disclosure.
“The fact that the investigation involves specific employees who may have been disciplined should not be exempt under IPRA,” Majors told the Journal. “If discipline has been imposed, that is a subjective fact.”
Last week parents of some of the victims filed a lawsuit against several local Catholic churches as well as Chavez and former Santo Nino Principal Theresa Vaisa. The plaintiffs allege the churches committed fraud and racketeering by claiming to offer a safe environment for their children in exchange for tuition money.
Chavez has not been sentenced.