New Mexico Supreme Court asked to weigh in on transparency fight

On Special Assignment

New Mexico’s highest court could weigh in on the transparency debate over when police should release video to the public.

The case stems from one of the most high-profile shootings in New Mexico history.

Video of the 2014 deadly shooting of James Boyd sparked protests, but the public only saw it because Albuquerque Police released its video the week after it happened. 

State Police did not. They were at the scene with APD.

However, the Department of Public Safety, which handles State Police records, took nine months to release video, according to attorney Laura Schauer Ives of Kennedy Kennedy & Ives. The law firm represented Boyd’s family in a civil suit to fight for the video.

“The State Police are not being transparent, and they’re doing it to protect officers,” Schauer Ives said.

DPS waited until an FBI investigation into the shooting finished, citing an exception in the state’s public records law that protects confidential sources, methods, information, or individuals accused but not charged with a crime.

The State Police dash camera video that eventually surfaced showed APD Officer Keith Sandy making controversial comments, talking about shooting Boyd with a taser shotgun before Sandy later fired deadly shots. 

“This f****** lunatic,” Sandy is heard saying.

Since the Department of Public Safety did eventually release the video, the courts considered the case closed. However, Schauer Ives is now asking the New Mexico Supreme Court to weigh in on the bigger question of transparency and the timely release of records. 

“If we win, departments will have to be more transparent. Then they won’t be able to play this political game and protect their officers,” Schauer Ives said. 

It all boils down to the exception in the records law, and how it’s interpreted differently from agency to agency and case to case. 

KRQE News 13 has more than a dozen outstanding requests to DPS for video, some almost two years old. Those requests are being denied on the basis that it would jeopardize ongoing investigations. 

For example, the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office released video last year showing the arrest of Damian Herrera, the man accused of going on a shooting rampage in northern New Mexico. KRQE News 13 is still waiting on the State Police video.

It’s the same with Lane Reed, who was arrested after a shootout on I-25 last year. The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office released video in January, State Police has not. 

It’s now up to the State Supreme Court to decide if it will review Schauer Ives’ case, and clear up the confusion. 

DPS said it couldn’t comment on this specific case, but says in general, the department can’t release evidence to the public until the district attorney on the case authorizes it. 

Read the full statement from DPS below:

This is still an on-going court matter, and therefore we do not believe it is appropriate to comment on any of the facts of the case, or overarching issues that may be incorporated. 
 
In all on-going criminal investigations, where there is an individual that is accused but not charged, the investigation remains open until a letter of  declination is provided by the district attorney or the district attorney elects to file charges. The Department of Public Safety is compelled to preserve evidence and to avoid disclosure of any evidence to the public at large, until the district attorney handling a case has authorized its release.
 
The Department of Public Safety provides access to thousands of pages of public records on an annual basis to the citizens of New Mexico.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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