KRQE settles public records lawsuit against city of Albuquerque

Albuquerque Bernalillo County Government Center, City Hall
Albuquerque Bernalillo County Government Center, City Hall

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – KRQE News 13 Wednesday settled its lawsuit against the city of Albuquerque after the city agreed to admit it was wrong in its handling of some public records requests. The city will also pay News 13 for its legal costs incurred through the lawsuit and $15,000 for its failure to respond to those requests.

Last October, KRQE News 13 sued the city for routinely refusing to follow the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act, the law that requires state and local governments in New Mexico to release most public records.

Under terms of the settlement, the city admitted it broke the law when it refused to respond to KRQE News 13 requests for body camera video in several encounters then- Albuquerque Police Department officer Jeremy Dear had with the public. Those interactions had been flagged by the Albuquerque Police Department’s early intervention system as potentially problematic. Dear is the officer who shot and killed 19-year-old Mary Hawkes.

The city also admitted fault when it failed to respond after KRQE News 13 asked for any correspondence between the mayor’s office and the Department of Justice, which at the time was negotiating the terms of a settlement agreement with the city after a DOJ investigation found a pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing. Nine months after News 13 filed the lawsuit and almost a year after the request, the city denied it, saying there was no record of any correspondence between the mayor’s office and the Justice Department.

In several other instances, the city refused to admit it mishandled public records requests made by KRQE News 13 staffers. It did, however, turn over more than 1,000 emails KRQE News 13 asked for in those requests, as well as hundreds of pages of case files and several videos.

Martin Esquivel, KRQE’s attorney, said Wednesday that he believed the records wouldn’t have seen the light of day without the lawsuit.

Esquivel said the heart of the settlement was an agreement by the city to follow its own policy requiring city staffers to comply with state open records law in all cases. The city policy also requires the city attorney to have the final word any time the city chooses to deny a request. APD’s then-records custodian, Reynaldo Chavez, often denied requests on behalf of the city.

Among the records APD turned over after News 13 filed the lawsuit was video taken by SWAT officers who were involved in a standoff with a robbery suspect, 56-year-old Dale Lusian, in March 2014. The video shows officers lobbing less lethal grenades at Lusian as they ostensibly tried to determine whether he was alive.

Under the direction of SWAT leader Ramon Ornelas, another team member fired beanbag rounds at Lusian’s body. Ultimately, the team closed in on the body and New Mexico State Police officer Richard Mathews, who was working with the SWAT unit, flicked Lusian’s unblinking eyeballs and stomped on his groin. The Office of the Medical Investigator said Lusian had killed himself, likely hours earlier.

As part of the settlement, the city will pay $45,000 to News 13 to cover attorney’s fees and an agreed-upon amount — $15,000 — for the time APD refused to respond to the two News 13 requests in which it admitted liability.

KRQE will donate the $15,000 to Crimestoppers and its partner program, Cops for Kids, which sponsors holiday shopping trips for underprivileged children.

Read the settlement below:

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