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Lawyer sues over APD document refusals

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Frustrated by the city’s repeated refusals to release materials showing how police are trained to interact with people with mental or developmental disabilities, an Albuquerque attorney has filed a lawsuit asking a judge to order production under the Inspection of Public Records Act.

Attorney Peter Cubra says he’s been trying for well over a year – in four written requests citing IPRA – to get critical documents regarding the Albuquerque Police Department’s crisis intervention training – specifically, the “policies, procedures, protocols, curricula, lesson plans and training materials” regarding the training.

Since June, the city stopped responding to his IPRA requests altogether, according to the complaint filed on his behalf by attorneys Vincent Ward and Amber Fayerberg.

The alleged violations of IPRA “are not isolated, but are instead part of the city’s long-standing custom and practice of refusing to comply with IPRA, especially IPRA requests regarding APD,” the lawsuit claims. He seeks an injunction to halt continuing violations, sanctions, money damages and attorney fees.

Cubra said in brief comments that APD “has been refusing to provide public records for the last decade. This lawsuit is for the purpose of fixing this crooked system.”

A request for comment from the city attorney’s office when the lawsuit was filed last week was not returned.

Cubra represents a class of individuals at the Metropolitan Detention Center with physical or mental disabilities in the McClendon class-action lawsuit, a federal civil rights case that is still being litigated on behalf of that group of inmates. He’s also filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of people with mental disabilities in the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit against the city alleging excessive force by police.

Cubra said the consent decree filed in that case “will never get implemented unless our Police Department stops hiding facts from the community.”

The complaint claims defendants “are attempting to keep secret matters of significant public concern involving the alleged misconduct of multiple city personnel.”

The lawsuit comes during a week when a state judge is conducting a preliminary hearing related to the fatal shooting in March 2014 of a mentally ill, homeless camper by APD officers.

It also comes a week after Judge Alan Malott ordered the city to pay $50,995 plus tax and costs to the Albuquerque Free Press for an IPRA request improperly denied in 2014, and imposed a $1,250 fine in another IPRA case for an assistant city attorney’s failure to show up.

Cubra says his work is limited solely to representing the interests of people with disabilities, particularly those in government custody, and that he often requests documents for that work, including his policy advocacy.

In April 2014, Cubra wrote the City Attorney’s Office urging the city to halt its alleged violations of the court order in the McClendon lawsuit “and to otherwise cure violations of the civil rights of people with mental or developmental disabilities who have encounters” with APD.

Four formal, written requests to the city followed that, each seeking specific information such as how many people APD has taken to a mental health evaluation facility each month, how often officers are dispatched to reports of attempted self-injury and how often an officer is sent to transport someone to a mental health professional or facility.

He also has sought information on the Crisis Oversight and Support Team, including encounters, staffing, the nature of their work and how often an counter ends with an arrest.

The lawsuit specifically names Javier Urban, the acting records custodian for the Police Department, whose response to an April 30 request was to say materials used by Dr. Troy Rodgers and the Public Safety Psychology Group LLC are subject to “copywrite and can only be obtained from Dr. Rodgers.” Rodgers is listed on the complaint as an interested party subject to service but is not defendant.

Those materials are key, the lawsuit says, because Rodgers, the acting director of behavioral services at APD, has provided crisis intervention training at the police academy to all 400 field services officers.