The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government on Friday urged the city of Rio Rancho to comply with The New Mexican‘s request for records in the December shooting death of a Santa Fe police officer’s young child, saying in a letter to City Attorney Greg Lauer the “blanket denial” of 911 audio recordings and police reports is “inconsistent both with law and longtime practice.”

Foundation Executive Director Shannon Kunkel also made a “mirror request” for the same records.

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

Officials with the Rio Rancho records department have said confidentiality requirements in two statutes in the New Mexico Children’s Code prevent the release of any information on 2-year-old Lincoln Harmon, who died Dec. 8.

Kunkel disagreed.

The information sought under New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act is “basic police information involved in the unfortunate death of a child,” she wrote. “Nothing in the Children’s Code states that original records of entry, such as 911 records and police reports generated and held by other agencies such as the city of Rio Rancho, are covered by some unwritten yet sweeping protective umbrella of the Children’s Code. That has been a long-standing legal interpretation by both [the state Children, Youth and Families Department] and various records custodians, based on our experience on this issue.”

Kunkel wrote the use of the Children’s Code to reject a public records request was a “gross misinterpretation” of the law, created to protect children’s confidential information, particularly in abuse and neglect cases handled by New Mexico’s child welfare agency.

“The Children’s Code is intended to protect confidential information regarding minors,” Kunkel wrote. “It in no way should be used to shield from the public basic policing records.”

According to a search warrant affidavit, Lincoln’s mother, Courtney Harmon, made a frantic phone call to 911 dispatchers the morning of Dec. 8 and said her son was critically injured. Santa Fe police Officer Jonathan Harmon, 28, the child’s father, tried to revive him by performing CPR.

Investigators who responded to the call found a shell casing in the Rio Rancho home and an empty handgun holster on a table. Courtney Harmon told investigators the firearm had been placed in a kitchen cabinet, the affidavit said. Investigators seized several guns and ammunition under a search warrant issued in the days after the toddler’s death.

The Rio Rancho Police Department issued a news release two days later, saying the young child of a Santa Fe officer had died from a gunshot wound.

More than five weeks later, the agency has provided no further details about the shooting, and no charges have been filed in Lincoln’s death.

Social media profiles for Jonathan and Courtney Harmon show the couple in multiple photos with Lincoln and two other young children, including an infant.



Rio Rancho police Capt. Joel Holt confirmed in late December the state Children, Youth and Families Department was contacted about the case, but he did not elaborate. Officials with the agency have declined to comment on whether it was involved in the response to Lincoln’s death or whether it has taken any other children in the family into custody.

Holt said last month there was no projected timeline for the conclusion of the investigation.

The New Mexico Children’s Code includes confidentiality requirements for cases involving juvenile delinquency; abuse and neglect; families in need of court-ordered services; and adoptions.

In cases involving a child death, the code outlines general protocols for the Children, Youth and Families Department. If there is reasonable suspicion a death was caused by abuse or neglect, the department must release certain information in response to a written request within five business days: the child’s age, gender, date of death, custody information and whether an investigation is ongoing.

Kunkel’s letter to Lauer noted the search warrant affidavit filed by Rio Rancho police in Lincoln’s death was evidence the Children’s Code does not cover all aspects of the case.

“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,” she wrote. “It was not.”

She cited high-profile child deaths in Albuquerque in which law enforcement agencies did not restrict the release of information based on the Children’s Code, including the 2013 death of 9-year-old Omaree Varela, the 2016 death of 10-year-old Victoria Martens and 2019 death of 4-year-old James Dunklee Cruz.

“The tragic death of the child in this case is a matter of great public concern,” Kunkel wrote.

Lauer responded in an email, telling Kunkel her letter contained “no legal, statutory, or any other authority” to reasonably render the Childen’s Code to “mean nothing.”

He added: “If ever a court or the legislature does decide to erase the Children’s Code’s confidentiality provisions” so that “media-types can access and exploit children’s confidential files and information, perhaps we’ll have a different conversation at that time.”

He wrote the code authorizes only certain agencies or persons” to access confidential records.

“Moreover, the Children’s Code prescribes specific criminal sanctions and penalties for those who violate the Code’s confidentiality provisions; that fact would seem to underscore the legislature’s intent regarding child victims’ rights and privacy,” Lauer wrote.

(40) comments

Carolyn DM

This is just plain BS!! No ordinary citizen would get this kind of secrecy. If we can't trust a cop to keep his children safe from all his guns, who can we trust? And to think he's out on the streets of Santa Fe to "serve and protect"!!

Emily Hartigan

Many years with prison inmates gave me compassion for those who make bad choices. And the law must be honored. If you are a gun-pro, sanctioned by the public, that is always relevant to the public safety.

Francisco Carbajal

Ms. Hartigan, I appreciate that you are not anti-police. Of course, I agree with your statement that "we can't maintain a civil society without them." So, why not allow the criminal and civil justice system do their functions from a legal standpoint and not allow the back-seat drivers to conduct (the public) their functions in the first place? This is on why we have a jury system in place if in case this specific incident becomes a (felony) criminal charge status. The public scrutiny process with applicable constitutional restraints is okay with me; however, but the public scrutiny process also needs to be fair, not bias, civil in nature, respectful, not libelous, not slanderous, and defamation of character by individual name, period! But you know better than I, this is not what is going on with the "anti-police" haters in Santa Fe. Lastly, the criminal and civil justice system needs to be allowed to process the evidence with clarity and precision. And really, what does your last Jan. 17, 2022, at 10:43am blogging statement have to do with this specific discussion board topic?

Francisco Carbajal

Carolyn DM, apparently you have the entire story on what occurred about this specific incident, uh? What "secrecy" are you referring to?

Francisco Carbajal

A point of clarification, when the NM State Legislature approved "the New Mexico Children's Code in 1972 and became effective July 1 of that year, the ensuing years have seen the growth of experience with the Code by judges, lawyers, probation staffs and law enforcement officers, the beginning of an encrustation of appellate judicial interpretive gloss, numerous legislative amendments to the Code, the promulgation by the Supreme Court of Children's Court Rules with generally clarify the Code but in some measure supersede or contradict it, a determined legislative effort in 1979 to repeal the Children's Code and replace it with a so-called Juvenile Code," and so forth...But what I find interesting since back in the day of this piece of legislation, it has not made a difference on what is occurring in the year of 2022 at all. Please review the entire New Mexico Law Review, Volume 10, Issue 2, Summer 1980 "The New Mexico Children Code: Some Remaining Problems" by Theodore E. Laurer. The link is: https://digitalrespository.unm.edu/nmlr/vol110/iss2/6. Said that, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government should rethink on how they are going to invoke a positive outcome that will protect the best interests of all children in a longer spectrum relating to a child victims' rights and privacy issues. On the same note, the Chris Mechels and the rest of the anti-cop's haters continue to spew their guts on a social media platform with no legal merits, validation, and affirmation relating to this topic. None whatsoever! The hate mongering attitude against "The Thin Blue Line" needs to cease and desist, altogether! I agree with Mr. Lauers' statement: "If ever a court or the legislature does decide to erase the Children's Code's confidentiality provisions' so the media-types can access and exploit children's confidential files and information, perhaps we'll have a different conversation at that time." 100% agree with him, big time!

Emily Koyama

Francisco Carbajal, these are two separate issues. People can show empathy and compassion AND expect consistent transparency from our taxpayer funded agencies and elected officials....there is clearly a disparity between the information released in previous cases, as mentioned by other commenters here, and this case, involving one of our own Law Enforcement Officers.

If you have paid any attention to my posts in the past, I'm very pro-police, and certainly do not condone the constant cop-bashing one of our regular posters here engages in.

However, the thick blackout curtain that has been drawn down over this case does nothing to further the trust that needs to exist between our police officers and the public that pays for them.

Francisco Carbajal

Emily Koyama, "the thick blackout curtain" that you speak about is the criminal justice system that is not allowed to function as it is designed to operate. In other words, we have the "regular posters" (as you identified the term in your response) engaged in a social media platform accusing a police officer of wrongdoing without allowing the due process within the criminal and civil procedures to filter out the proof of evidence. Yes, I paid (no punned intended) any attention to your prior posts in the past and I appreciate that you are pro-police.

Mark Specter

Chris brings knowledge and cites precedent. All you bring is righteous indignation.

Francisco Carbajal

Mark Specter, definitely. Chris Mechels does not have the legal license to comit libel, defamation, and slanderous allegations against specific police officer's (by name) who are involved pending criminal investigations that are conducted by an official law enforcement agency, the District Attorney's Office, etc. If any person that is committing "All you bring is righteous indignation" is Chris Mechels and Mark Specter!

LeRoy Sanchez

Wrong.

LeRoy Sanchez

👍

Khal Spencer

The Children's Code most likely is designed to protect children. This child is dead. Who is being protected?

Francisco Carbajal

Khal Spencer, who are you implying that is being protected? Why do you think the media developed this primary news story relating to the Children's Code issue? What do you think the "inside story" is really about?

Khal Spencer

Its Rio Rancho and the police who are involved in the coverup, not the newspaper. I hope the newspaper sues under public records law so we all finally find out what the "inside story" is all about. Child protective laws are designed to protect children, not adults.

LeRoy Sanchez

👍

Khal Spencer

This stinks of a coverup, esp. when compared with the flood of information on gruesome killings of children in the Albuquerque and Santa Fe areas that was freely released to the press (the article mentions the Albuquerque cases; we had Jeremiah Valencia).

This behavior casts a pall over both the Rio Rancho and Santa Fe Police Depts. Rio Rancho P.D., because it is engaging in a flagrant coverup, and SFPD, since this is one of our own officers under a cloud.

Fix it.

LeRoy Sanchez

👍

Emily Hartigan

The poor kid is dead, and has no need for "confidentiality" -- only adults are hiding behind this absurd claim.

Francisco Carbajal

Show some compassion and empathy to the family of the deceased.

Emily Hartigan

Francisco, if the family killed him, responsibility is necessary before "compassion" is anything other than a cover-up. Were it sheer, documentable accident without negligence, we'd have been told over and over, already.

Francisco Carbajal

Emily Hartigan, don't you think the final criminal investigation report would show the evidence of proof? But who is the "public" to become the judge and jury to accuse a law enforcement family (in this specific case) of wrongdoing and the Santa Fe New Mexican adding and fusing more division and separation in our community relating to anti-police attitudes in Santa Fe? Who is holding the local newspaper organization responsible for this type of injustice against "Thin Blue Line?"

Emily Hartigan

Francisco, I am not anti-police. We can't maintain civil society without them. Most are fine persons, and some are extraordinary. But not all.

That is why, for the good cops, they MUST be subject to law and to public scrutiny.

LeRoy Sanchez

👍

Chris Mechels

How could a dead child have privacy concerns?? This is clearly a cover up, involving the SFPD. The officer failed to properly secure his firearms, and that violates SFPD policy, and opens him up to charges of Child Abuse. Gawd forbid we should hold the officer accountable, that might upset the other officers.

Francisco Carbajal

Show some compassion and empathy to the family of the deceased.

Stefanie Beninato

Seems like a blatant coverup to hide the responsibility of the parents especially the one with the badge. We sure knew a lot about kids who were killed by parents and their partners--remember the 13 yo boy in Chimayo---no refusal to produce the lurid details of the abuse by the perpetrators--oh but get a badge and you can hide inside the fog machine the Webber administration uses to obscure all negativity.

Spencer Ralston

Stephanie - This cover-up is happening in Rio Rancho, not Santa Fe. Let's not make it about Webber for this story. Will you also be blaming him for a problem in Las Cruces?

Cheryl Odom

Spencer, this police officer is on the Santa Fe police force, therefore a coverup is entirely possible. Lots of Santa Fe city employees live in Rio Rancho and Albuquerque because it's cheaper to live there. Thin blue line, as Mark says.

Francisco Carbajal

Show some compassion and empathy to the family of the deceased.

Emily Koyama

You are, of course, correct. Technically.

However, I guarantee that the brass at both Rio Rancho PD and Santa Fe PD have exchanged information, so Webber knows all of the details pertinent to this case.....certainly a great deal more than the general public.

He and SFPD are using the excuse that SFPD is not the handling agency, therefore has no legal obligation to release information.

I think he legally COULD release more info, but is choosing not to.

Francisco Carbajal

Show some compassion and empathy for the family of the deceased.

Francisco Carbajal

Show some compassion and empathy to the family of the deceased.

Emily Hartigan

How many times will you repeat the obvious, Francisco? I am so sorry for a family whose child was killed. But if there is negligence and/or abuse, I feel sorrier for the families of other children who need to be protected by our learning the truth.

Francisco Carbajal

Emily Hartigan, did you even review the legal source that I provided for the "public" relating to the Children Code historical perspective for NM? This entire news article that was published by the New Mexican is referring to the Children Code and its inherent problems associated with the pending criminal investigation at hand. If there is proof of negligence and/or abuse (like you say their is), then, why do you think the criminal justice system has to legally test the Childrens Code provisions by state law requirements to ascertain if it will pass "Constitutional Muster" or not? If you are "so sorry for a family whose child was killed," then, why not allow the criminal justice system to function without delay accordingly?

LeRoy Sanchez

Francisco Carvajal, enough already!

Mark Specter

More thin blue line BS brought to you by utterly ineffective policing in this state. Wonder when DoJ will get involved.

Francisco Carbajal

Show some compassion and empathy to the family of the deceased.

Mark Specter

I have a lot of compassion for them but your reply is irrelevant. I am talking about the LE coverup, not the family.

Paul Berndt

Agree. Compassion for the family is not incompatible with open government and transparency. The fact that the tragic death occurred in the home of a police officer does not make it different than any other citizen.

Francisco Carbajal

Mark Specter, seriously, if any of "your reply is irrelevant," it is yours. Apparently, you fail to back-up your allegations of a LE coverup in a social media forum and no relevance whatsoever!

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