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NM discloses $8.5M in legal settlements

Samuel Pauly

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The family of Samuel Pauly – shot and killed by State Police in 2011 – reached a $400,000 settlement with the Department of Public Safety earlier this year, ending nearly seven years of litigation over a nighttime confrontation in Glorieta.

It’s one of about 70 settlements – totaling more than $8.5 million – now published on New Mexico’s Sunshine Portal under a new policy initiated by the General Services Department.

The policy aims to shine light on the often-secret spending by the state to settle legal claims, including for personal injury and wrongful death.

Settlement of the Pauly case comes after his family filed a lawsuit in 2012, accusing State Police officers of showing up after dark at his home in a rural part of Santa Fe County. He and his brother were terrified, the lawsuit said, because they didn’t know the intruders were police officers.

The 12-page lawsuit alleged State Police had failed to follow their own policies, resulting in the shooting death of Pauly as he stood in the living room of the house.

State Police had gone to the home as they followed up on a road-rage incident reported on Interstate 25 earlier that day.

They said they shouted to identify themselves to the Pauly family. State prosecutors also said there was evidence Pauly had fired a shot toward the officers.

The Pauly family lawsuit said one of the brothers simply fired into the air, hoping to scare away intruders. The suit argued that police approached the home without visible police lights, speakers or a clear announcement about who they were.

At one point, litigation over the shooting reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 2017 ruling, the justices sided with State Police on a legal question related to the shooting, although the decision didn’t preclude the officers from facing any liability.

Ultimately, the state and the Pauly family reached a $400,000 settlement, signed in January this year.

In the agreement, the state said it denied liability and was settling the case as a compromise and to avoid further legal costs.

The agreement might have gone unnoticed if not for publication under a state policy aimed at promoting government transparency.

By law, state settlements are withheld from public disclosure for 180 days. They are often revealed only if someone files a request under the state Inspection of Public Records Act after the confidentiality period expires.

But it’s often unclear which cases have been settled or when the 180-day clock has started.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration last week began a policy of disclosing all state settlements once the confidentiality period expires.

In a written statement, the governor said the posting of financial settlements is a matter of open government.

“We have seen unsettling things about how taxpayer money was used by the prior state administration,” she said. “Ensuring the public knows how its money is spent – and further that decisions about their money have been made in an equitable, responsible and thoughtful fashion – is an extremely worthwhile endeavor, and I’m glad light will be shed on state settlements beginning today.”

The secrecy surrounding New Mexico’s financial settlements has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years.

Lujan Grisham this year opted against enforcing a provision in at least two settlements – authorized at the end of her predecessor’s term – that aimed to extend the secrecy period for several years, not the typical 180 days.

The settlements centered on allegations against the state Department of Public Safety.

About $8.5 million in settlements since Jan. 1 have been disclosed on the website.

New ones will be posted as their confidentiality periods expire.

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