December 2, 2015

Attorneys make final arguments in APD public records trial

Joe Gratz


The City of Albuquerque is using the state Inspection of Public Records Act to only its own end, according to closing arguments in the trial of a lawsuit alleging the city violated the law.

Photo Credit: Joe Gratz cc

Joe Gratz

Photo Credit: Joe Gratz cc

Ahmad Assed, the attorney for Munah Green, contends in written arguments submitted this week that under the city’s interpretation, “IPRA becomes meaningless and subject to the pleasure and whim of governmental power.”

“Instead of IPRA being a public check and balance, or a statutory tool by which the public can extract the greatest possible information about governmental actions, IPRA can be thwarted, eviscerated and otherwise rendered meaningless by two words: ‘on-going investigation,’” Assed writes.

Green is the mother of Jaquise Lewis, the 17-year-old who died from gunshots in the March shooting at Los Altos Skate Park. The shooting left six others wounded, including one who was paralyzed.

Albuquerque police have said that Lewis had a gun, fired at people that night and was killed in self defense. Multiple witnesses from that night who were with Lewis have publicly stated otherwise.

Green is seeking release of public documents related to the shooting, including a cell phone video of the incident currently in Albuquerque Police Department custody. She filed a public records request for the material in April.

Green, her mother and an attorney have all seen the video and have said it exonerates Lewis and shows he was pursued and shot.

Green has stated that she would drop the lawsuit if the city publicly releases the video.

But City Attorney Jessica Hernandez and Assistant City Attorney Kevin Morrow argue in their closing statement that public release of the video “could endanger witnesses and jeopardize” an ongoing police investigation into the shooting.

“Specifically, if the video were released at this time, the viewing could taint the recollection of witnesses who have not been interviewed, which could compromise future criminal proceedings with regard to impeachment of both prosecution and defense witnesses,” they argue.

A law enforcement exception to IPRA allows the city to deny releasing the video and other documents, they argue. The city’s argument also refers to testimony from APD Sgt. Elizabeth Thomson that the documents being withheld “contain confidential sources, information and names of witnesses, victims and suspects.”

They also cite testimony from Det. Tara Juarez, who told the court that the public release of still photos from the shooting led to a witness changing their testimony to inaccurate information.

Hernandez and Morrow maintain in their closing statements that APD is still investigating the shooting. Assed, however, doubts this is the case in his argument.

Photo Credit: Justice For Jaquise Lewis

Photo Credit: Justice For Jaquise Lewis

“On the one hand, Defendant claims it can’t release records and information because it’s in the midst of an on-going investigation,” Assed writes, “but then Defendant states nothing has been investigated in over four weeks, or that the investigation is over.”

The last part refers to statements made by APD spokesman Tanner Tixier to the Albuquerque Journal in November that the investigation was over.

Assed also mentions that APD’s itself released evidence from the ongoing investigation when it disclosed 13 still photos from cellphone video at a press conference in May. The photos were used partly to support APD’s claim that Lewis was shot in self-defense.

Assed argues that the public records law “was meant to empower citizens” and hold government accountable “not just when it is convenient, but primarily when it [is] inconvenient and uncomfortable to those subject to IPRA.”

Albuquerque District Judge Victor Lopez, who presided over the trial of the case last month, is expected to make a decision soon.

Read closing statements from both Munah Green and the city below:

Closing Arguments by New Mexico Political Report

D-202-CV-2015-5680 City of Albuquerque Closing Arguments and Proposed Findings by New Mexico Political Report