The sister of a woman shot and killed by deputies “under suspicious circumstances” months ago is suing Bernalillo County over its failure to release any records related to the case, according to court documents.
Elisha Lucero, a 28-year-old woman suffering from mental illness, was armed with a kitchen knife when she was killed by three Sheriff’s Office deputies in July. Her sister Elaine Maestas filed a petition to enforce the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act on Nov. 4 in state District Court in Albuquerque saying her family and the public want answers.
“Respondents have provided no information at all, withholding – without any legal basis – police reports, digital audio recordings, and even CADs (computer-aided dispatch reports) which are supposed to be categorically publicly available by statute,” Maestas’ lawsuit states. “The basis for respondents’ blanket withholding is a claimed ‘ongoing investigation’ that has no identified end date.”
A judge last week ordered the county to produce the records as required under IPRA or to explain why they feel they don’t have to. A hearing in the case is set for Jan. 15.
A spokeswoman for the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office said the agency is “committed to the safety of our children, families, and businesses, however it would be inappropriate to comment on pending litigation.”
Maestas’ attorney Adam Flores wrote that there is no exception to IPRA allowing agencies to deny a request because an investigation is underway. He pointed out that confidential information within a law enforcement record should be redacted and should not exempt the record from inspection.
Flores said attorneys received denials for their requests for all police reports, belt tapes, interviews, identities of officers at the scene and personnel records for officers on scene.
“We haven’t even identified who all was at the scene, or who all was involved. We don’t know which witnesses were out there,” Flores said. “We haven’t even seen a single police report, so the public knows nothing about this shooting at all.”
The lawsuit asks that the county withdraw any blanket confidentiality claims; produce the records; issue denial letters for those portions of the request that are denied; and cover attorney fees and costs.
“They totally control all of the information,” Flores said. “And, as usual, they totally control the public narrative by making comments to the media about what they want to say when they want to say it. And they conceal all records related to this case.”