The release of public documents by the city of Rio Rancho on Wednesday regarding the December death of a two-year-old child in Rio Rancho ended a legal battle “that didn’t need to happen,” Kathi said. Bearden, president of New Mexico. Open Government Foundation.
The Santa Fe New Mexican, NMFOG, and other news outlets filed a public records inspection request with the city of Rio Rancho for public records relating to the December 2021 incident. The request requested reports from initial incident and 911 calls regarding the incident.
The City of Rio Rancho refused to produce the requested records citing state Children’s Code protections typically used to prevent disclosure of information by the New Brunswick Department of Children, Youth and Families. Mexico in cases of abuse, neglect and delinquency.
NMFOG and The New Mexican jointly filed a lawsuit in March after the city continued to refuse to produce the records despite a notice from the attorney general’s office — issued in response to a complaint filed by KOAT-TV — stating that the records were public and that the city had violated the law by not producing them. Following Rio Rancho’s refusal to release the recordings, NMFOG and The New Mexican filed a lawsuit against Rio Rancho. District Judge James A. Noel ruled in favor of NMFOG and The New Mexican.
District Noel wrote in its decision that “Neither of the two provisions of the Children’s Code which [the city] cited as their sole reason for denying … requests under the IPRA authorize a law enforcement agency to shield its investigation reports or 911 recordings from public inspection.
“It is regrettable that public officials are not fulfilling their obligations under the law regarding the disclosure of documents,” said Melanie J. Majors, acting director of NMFOG. She pointed out that initial incident reports and 911 calls are routinely released as public records in cases involving the public and law enforcement officers. “Not only have these public officials unnecessarily delayed the disclosure of a public record,” she added, “but they also imposed a significant financial burden on the city of Rio Rancho. Rio Rancho is now legally obligated to pay attorney fees.
In addition to ordering the city to produce the records, the judge ordered Rio Rancho to pay “reasonable attorneys’ fees and expenses” associated with the lawsuit, estimated by plaintiffs’ attorney at approximately $40,000. After receiving the filings, Charles “Kip” Purcell, attorney and NMFOG board member, said, “This is an important decision because it clarifies that the confidentiality required by the Children’s Code does not applies only to the record of the Department of Children, Youth and Families. Documents generated by law enforcement are subject to public inspection in the records of these agencies, even if CYFD has obtained copies.
The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government was established in 1989 as the only nonprofit, nonpartisan, member-supported organization serving the open government interests of the general public, business community, elected officials , journalists and lawyers. FOG works on behalf of the New Mexicans from the rotunda to the home of the school. If you have any questions or concerns about the IPRA or OMA, you can contact the helpline at 1-505-764-3750. Open government is the best government.