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District Attorney Raúl Torrez on Thursday sued the administrator of the 2nd Judicial District Court in Albuquerque, alleging that court officials are violating the state Inspection of Public Records Act by refusing to turn over GPS location records for two defendants arrested on new crimes while wearing court-ordered ankle monitors.
Flanked by Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina, Torrez in a news conference said his office also plans to seek GPS data for all felony defendants on court-ordered ankle monitors to try to solve unsolved crimes in the community and test how well the court’s pretrial supervision program is working.
“It is a matter of public safety for law enforcement and the public to know whether criminal defendants on conditions of release have committed new crimes while awaiting trial,” stated the lawsuit, which accused court administrators of seeking “to operate its pretrial supervision of criminal defendants in secrecy.”
The filing of the lawsuit prompted Chief Judge Marie Ward to issue an order recusing all judges from the 2nd Judicial District Court from hearing the case.
In a news release, the court administration defended its “longstanding practice” of releasing pretrial records only under judicial order, a stipulated protective order or a search warrant. The decision to deny the records under IPRA came after careful consideration of federal and state law, the release added.
“Court Administration looks forward to an independent and impartial out-of-district judge reviewing and deciding the matter,” the release states.
Torrez’s office in recent months has tried unsuccessfully to obtain GPS data through subpoenas and public records requests in the cases of murder suspect Devin Munford and alleged serial burglar Jesse Mascareno-Haidle.
Both defendants were rearrested and charged with new crimes while on pretrial release requiring 24/7 ankle monitoring. Court administrators for pretrial services have refused to turn over such information to the DA, citing either confidentiality or the need for only a limited disclosure of information after which the records must be sealed.
Torrez’s lawsuit contends there is no specific exception for withholding such information under the state’s public records law, which he said, “has for many years provided a robust mechanism for public scrutiny, public accountability and transparency in the operations of government.”
“There is no ethical justification, there is no legal justification for shielding these records from public disclosure,” Torrez said. Underscoring the need for the location data, he said, is the revelation that, up until a few months ago, defendants on GPS monitors in Bernalillo County weren’t always tracked at night or on weekends and holidays.
In September, the state Administrative Office of the Courts beefed up monitoring efforts in response.
But questions remain, Torrez said, such as “what were all of these individuals doing … what things were they engaged in? The prosecution has a right to know that and the public does, too.”
Last month, a defense attorney for Mascareno-Haidle contended at a pre-trial hearing that his client’s GPS location data were his client’s own records and releasing them would violate his privacy.
Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur, in a statement on Thursday, said many of those defendants on pretrial release comply with their conditions and ultimately are never convicted of a crime.
“It shouldn’t be the law that any government entity or any person, including someone who might want to do harm, could have complete access to records of someone’s daily travel and every movement. If these pretrial records were subject to IPRA, that is what could happen,” Baur stated. “The District Attorney’s requests are far broader than is necessary to address any public safety concern.”
With GPS data from the courts, Torrez said DA crime analysts and its crime strategies unit could work with detectives with APD and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office to map out where individuals on ankle monitoring have been and compare that data to the times and locations of unsolved shootings, robberies and residential burglaries in the Albuquerque area. Medina said APD now has the technology to detect crime trends via GPS data.
“Our process will be able to say this is the trail of chaos that has followed this person that your (pretrial) monitoring isn’t telling you about,” Medina said.
Torrez said his office loses more than 50% of its motions to detain in cases involving firearms when judges place such defendants on pretrial release.
“Everyone in this community knows the most enduring problem we have in this community is gun violence,” Torrez said. “So an obvious next step is to take those people we think should have been be in jail, who are committing crimes with guns, and who are placed on GPS monitoring. If they’re not connected to any of these shootings, then we should know that. Give us the records and we’ll figure that out.”
The lawsuit states handouts from the 2nd Judicial District Court’s pretrial services division notify criminal defendants that their movements will be tracked and stored as an official record. “No advisories are given that such location data may be confidential or private,” the lawsuit states.
“What we’ve tried to point out in our complaint is that someone on GPS supervision is afforded conditional liberty in lieu of being held in the detention center,” Torrez said. “That does not give them some claim that their whereabouts should not be monitored and tracked.”