May 6, 2015

APD loses IPRA case over weapons list

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Cover of the first edition of ABQ Free Press.

The Albuquerque Police Department lost an open records case where a journalist sought an inventory weapons owned by the department.

Cover of the first edition of ABQ Free Press.

Cover of the first edition of ABQ Free Press.

The journalist was Peter St. Cyr, an independent journalist who wrote an article for ABQ Free Press and sought an inventory of the weapons.

APD rejected the request, saying that this would aid terrorists, according to the free paper’s website.

St. Cyr sought the documents through the state Inspection of Public Records Act, which gives broad discretion to those seeking open records from state and local governments, including police departments.

From ABQ Free Press:

Judge Alan Malott rejected that argument, saying the same logic might be applied to the number of APD officers on duty or the condition of its vehicles — something taxpayers are entitled to know. “Given the clearly expansive scope of IPRA in providing citizens information about their government and its activities, Defendant’s argument for exemption under the ‘terrorist attack’ exemption of the law is “unpersuasive,” Malott wrote.

The judge ordered APD to turn over the APD weapons inventory to St. Cyr. The judge reserved, however, a ruling on the newspaper’s standing in the case. APD had argued that because the IPRA request was filed by St. Cyr before ABQ Free Press had applied for its city business license, the newspaper should be excluded from the case. The newspaper and St. Cyr produced emails showing an editor-reporter relationship existed at the time the IPRA requets was made.

The case will be an interesting one for more reasons than just the records that APD will have to give up to St. Cyr.

The state Supreme Court ruled that the $100 a day fine for IPRA was no longer valid. These payments were seen by advocates as a big reason why the open records law is so useful.

This will be the first IPRA case to go to a judge since the ruling, according to ABQ Free Press.

“The change means that people who sue agencies under IPRA for wrongfully withholding public documents must provide the burden for damages,” the Santa Fe Reporter wrote. “A person suing, for example, would have to show how the withholding of public documents impacting them financially in order to receive damages.”

APD itself has had problems with open records.

Recently, the department put three members of the open records unit on leave. One, Reynaldo Chavez, says he plans on filing a whistleblower suit against the department. He says being put on leave was retaliation.

Previously, in relation to the IPRA case settled today, Chavez said in a deposition that he did not consult with anyone in rejecting the public records request.

Correction:

This post originally mentioned “military-style” weapons, as referenced in the ABQ Free Press story, though St. Cyr wrote on Facebook he requested an inventory of all weapons.