The booking sheets and photos had been released by the county routinely for years, until it decided to change its policy this spring.
News organizations and others objected to the change and were prepared to file a lawsuit, arguing that refusal to release the records wasn’t justified under state law. They said the county made the right call Wednesday.
“These are records of alleged criminal activity in our community, and nothing in New Mexico law prevents their release,” said Gregory Williams, board president of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.
Charles Peifer, an attorney who represented the Journal and KOAT-TV, said New Mexico law doesn’t allow for “secret arrests.”
“It’s been the law for at least the last 40 years that all arrest records and detention records are public,” he said in an interview. “We’re glad the county, taking a fresh look at the law, has reached the same conclusion.”
The county began refusing to release juvenile detention records in May. The change came after the director of the Youth Services Center – a 78-bed detention center in the North Valley – asked county attorneys to reconsider what could be released.
The Albuquerque Journal objected at that time, arguing that the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act required the basic arrest records to be made public.
The dispute intensified this summer after the county refused to release booking photos and related information for six teenagers arrested in connection with the killing of Steven Gerecke, a 60-year-old man shot dead in his driveway June 26.
Attorneys for the Journal, FOG and Albuquerque television stations had been in discussions for nearly two weeks.
County Attorney Randy Autio said Wednesday that the law isn’t always clear on which juvenile records can be released. But he agreed that arrest records are already in the public domain and that booking sheets are “inherently related” and should be released, too.
“There are some inconsistencies in the way state law addresses juvenile record confidentiality,” Autio said in a written statement. “This might be a good issue for the New Mexico Legislature to review and possibly make changes to the law that can provide greater clarity on how juvenile records should be managed in the criminal justice system.”
In any case, he said, the county still will not release medical or other confidential information.
The public records request filed by the Journal sought only the booking sheet and mugs.