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The state agency tasked with enforcing the Inspection of Public Records Act was found to have violated the act when it didn’t turn over documents that had been requested.
Last week, a judge ordered the state Attorney General’s Office to pay the former chief of the Albuquerque Police Department more than $40,000 in fines and attorney fees after finding it failed to comply with the act. Michael Geier had requested all correspondence between APD and the AG’s Office that were related to him, but, when almost a year had passed without anything being released, he filed the suit.
APD Police Chief Harold Medina
When the AG’s Office did produce the records last month, it confirmed that, in April 2021, Chief Harold Medina sent a letter to AG prosecutor Matt Baca as a formal referral of “possible criminal conduct by former Albuquerque Police Department (APD) staff to include the former Chief of Police, former Chief of Staff and former Executive Assistant to the Chief.” He said the allegations of misconduct included “falsification of documents, providing false and inconsistent statements to investigators, backdating documents, and time theft.” No determination has been made regarding an investigation. Geier was the former police chief referred to in the letter.
An AG spokeswoman told the Journal Monday that the office is “in the process of reviewing the City of Albuquerque’s policies and procedures that may have enabled fiscal irresponsibility at the Albuquerque Police Department.”
Spokeswoman Jerri Mares added that the office has narrowed the scope of the investigation due to a conflict of interest involving Geier’s former secretary who was employed previously by the AG’s Office.
As for the violation of the Inspection of Public Records Act, Mares said the office had completed “a reasonable search based on the information provided in the original request and were unable to find responsive documents.”
“Once we received additional details from Geier, we were able to locate the document and immediately provide it to him,” Mares said, referring to Medina’s letter. “While we are reviewing our legal options, we believe the fine that the court issued is unwarranted, given our extensive search and the single document that was later recovered only once Geier provided additional information.”
Flaws in the investigation
Medina, who first had been deputy chief, served as interim chief after the mayor asked Geier to resign in September 2020. Medina was appointed, and then confirmed, to fill the permanent position in mid-March 2021.
APD spokespersons did not respond to questions from the Journal about the investigation into the former chief.
In his letter to the AG’s Office dated April 2, 2021, Medina said local media had brought the issues surrounding Geier, Geier’s executive assistant Paulette Diaz and Geier’s chief of staff John Ross to his attention.
KRQE-TV was working on a piece about an internal investigation into Ross. Before he was replaced, Geier had asked for the internal investigation into allegations that Ross had bought a $2,400 Apple laptop computer without the chief’s approval.
The story, which aired in early May 2021, reported there were flaws in the investigation, which found that Ross had committed no serious misconduct.
The story quoted both Medina and Mayor Tim Keller saying they had asked the AG’s Office to look into the matter.
In his letter, Medina wrote that “the former APD police chief, who had the authority and duty to refer these issues to your office, decided during his tenure not to make any such referrals.” Medina said his referral of the case “appears to be the best immediate course of action to get to the bottom of these allegations and confirm the public’s trust in its police department.”
Inexplicable failure to reply
About a month after Medina sent the letter to the AG’s Office, Geier asked the AG’s Office for all correspondence between the two agencies concerning him or Diaz since the beginning of the year.
By April 2022, he still hadn’t received anything.
Former APD Chief Michael Geier
That’s when Geier filed a lawsuit alleging the AG’s Office violated the Inspection of Public Records Act.
The lawsuit stated that Geier had not received any documents, and was instead told repeatedly that the office needed additional time. The last letter Geier received – from Baca in the AG’s Office in October 2021 – stated that, “although we anticipated having some records available today, we will require additional time to continue a thorough search and review to determine if we possess any records that are responsive to your request and available for inspection.”
In court filings in response to Geier’s complaint, the AG’s Office asserted that the records he sought “simply do not exist” and that, after “an exhaustive, months-long search, in which petitioner was kept apprised with regular and statutorily-compliant correspondence until recently , respondents were not able to find any records responsive to the enumerated requests.”
Then, after a phone conversation between the two parties, the AG’s Office was able to find Medina’s letter to Baca.
In her order, Judge Lisa Chavez Ortega stated that the AG’s Office had “failed to comply with the requirements of IPRA. Such failure to comply is inexplicable and justifies imposing the maximum statutory damages available.”
She ordered the AG’s Office to pay Geier damages of $100 a day for 354 days – a total of $35,400 – as well as $5,889 in attorney fees and out-of-pocket costs of $190.
Meanwhile, Geier’s attorney, Thomas Grover, called the idea of criminal conduct by Geier or Diaz “a wild theory” and a “crazy notion,” and said he thought the AG’s Office “didn’t see that it merited any consideration whatsoever.”
“It seems so casual that it’s a little disturbing that it apparently got lost,” Grover said. ‘”I mean the fact that Matt Baca was the last one to correspond with Chief Geier when he was the guy who received the letter from Medina – it is just weird.”