SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The state’s open records law doesn’t create a blanket exception for shielding law enforcement records that are related to an ongoing criminal investigation, the New Mexico Supreme Court said Tuesday.
The court’s unanimous decision came in a case involving a records request by the brother of James Boyd, who was shot and killed by Albuquerque police in 2014. The shooting sparked protests and was among the cases of excessive force that resulted in a series of court-ordered police reforms.
The court said when adopting the provision that shields certain records from disclosure, lawmakers were concerned about specific information that is exempt from the Inspection of Public Records Act. That includes records that reveal confidential sources, methods of investigation and individuals accused but not charged with a crime.
The law requires the records custodian to separate the nonexempt law enforcement information and make it available for public inspection, the court ruled.
The justices concluded that a district court interpreted the law’s exception too broadly and wrongly dismissed a public records enforcement lawsuit filed by Boyd’s brother, Andrew Jones, against the state Department of Public Safety.
The Supreme Court also reversed a ruling by the Court of Appeals against Jones’ appeal of the lower court’s decision. The case was sent back to the district court for further proceedings.
Jones filed his lawsuit after the Department of Public Safety initially withheld most of the records he requested about the shooting. The agency argued that releasing the records could jeopardize an federal investigation. The records were provided to Jones in 2015, months later and after the investigation was completed.