ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Months after a police SWAT operation led to a lethal fire in an Albuquerque home, the aunt of the teenage victim is still seeking answers. She’s now filing a lawsuit against the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) seeking public records tied to the case.
15-year-old Brett Rosenau is suspected to have died of smoke inhalation during the July SWAT call and fire. During an August news conference, an Albuquerque Fire Rescue captain said that it was “extremely likely” that a tri-chamber flameless gas-irritant grenade APD used in the operation caused the fire.
Shawnie Skinner, who identifies as the aunt of Rosenau, is claiming that APD has violated state law by failing to release public records in the case. In a suit filed Monday, Skinner details how APD has allegedly failed to give her records she’s entitled to under the state’s public records law.
Five days after Rosenau died, on July 11, 2022, Skinner requested police reports, body camera videos, and several other files relating to the house fire from the police department, according to the complaint filed in district court. Skinner claims that by November, over three months after the request was filed, she had only received two redacted reports. The bulk of her request hadn’t been fulfilled, the lawsuit alleges.
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Under the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA), state and local government agencies must release applicable records within 15 days of receiving a written request. If the government agency deems the record “excessively burdensome or broad,” they can ask for more time.
That’s exactly what happened in this case. Documents filed with the lawsuit show that APD’s records staff let Skinner know that the records would be delayed. The same documents also show APD even apologized in the message, but Skinner and her attorneys claim that the “public records request is non-transparently being denied.”
This isn’t the first time APD has faced legal action for records and transparency issues. Since 2012, there have been more than a dozen IPRA lawsuits filed against APD that resulted in settlements totaling over $350,000. That’s according to a review of the city’s litigation reports.
KRQE News 13 reached out to APD, who said records-related questions should be directed to the City Clerk. Ethan Watson, the city clerk who is broadly in charge of overseeing the IPRA process for Albuquerque, told KRQE News 13 that “the Clerk’s Office is working diligently to fulfill the request and communicate with the requestor.”
Watson also notes that the city received over 10,000 requests for records last year. That means his office receives around 900 requests per month, many of which relate to APD files. To process those requests, the city has 11 full-time staff positions, Watson says.
In this specific instance, city officials noted that there are over 200 law enforcement lapel videos related to the SWAT call and fire. The city is allowed to redact portions of those in order to protect the identity of undercover officers or protect the details of tactical response plans that could potentially aid a terrorist attack. But the process to make those redactions, on 200 or more video files, can take time.