Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Rio Rancho repeatedly denies records requests in child’s death

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A back and forth among Rio Rancho police, local newspapers and a government transparency advocacy group has resulted in a stalemate over records sought in the December shooting death of the 2-year-old son of a Santa Fe police officer at a Rio Rancho home.

The Rio Rancho Police Department has cited the Children’s Code to deny repeated Inspection of Public Records Act requests – for 911 calls and initial police reports – made by the Journal, Santa Fe New Mexican and New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, or FOG.

The requests are centered around the Dec. 8 death of Lincoln Harmon who, according to court records, was shot in the head inside the home of Santa Fe Police Department officer Jonathan Harmon.

A search warrant affidavit provided by the courts states the boy’s mother told 911 dispatch the boy had fallen from a chair, but arriving officers found a gun and holster nearby.

Shannon Kunkel, executive director of the Foundation for Open Government.

FOG Executive Director Shannon Kunkel said she was disappointed to receive the most recent denial from Gregory Lauer, Rio Rancho’s city attorney, who cited the Children’s Code as the reason for the denial.

“If ever a court or the legislature does decide to erase the Children’s Code’s confidentiality provisions so that you, Ms. (Victoria) Traxler (of the New Mexican), or other media-types can access and exploit children’s confidential files and information, perhaps we’ll have a different conversation at that time,” Lauer told Kunkel in a Jan. 14 email.

On Wednesday Lauer told the Journal the two confidentiality provisions of the Children’s Code cited for the denial involved children “as victims” and “as delinquents.”

In a letter to Lauer, Kunkel wrote the circumstances surrounding Harmon’s death are “a matter of great public concern” and that Rio Rancho’s “blanket refusal” to release records “is inconsistent both with law and longtime practice.”

Kunkel wrote that nothing in the Children’s Code states that original records of entry like 911 calls “are covered by some unwritten yet sweeping protective umbrella.” She said the same types of records were not withheld in other high-profile deaths of children, including Omaree Varela and Victoria Martens.

“In the Rio Rancho matter, if the broad approach to secrecy you suggest is required was in fact the law, even the affidavit for search for it would’ve been filed under seal. It wasn’t,” Kunkel wrote. She said there should “be no question” that initial police reports should be public under IPRA and she asked Lauer to reconsider the denial.

“We hope you agree that it would be preferable to avoid the time and expense of litigation over this matter,” Kunkel wrote.

Kunkel said FOG, which is worried the denial could set a dangerous precedent for future requests, is evaluating its next move.

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