It should not take a lawsuit for the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office, led by Sheriff Robert Garcia, to do the right thing and release the full report on an incident involving two married Santa Fe Police Department officers.
The issue of what records must be released already has been litigated, with law enforcement — in this case, the state Department of Public Safety — being told in no uncertain terms that such records are public. Agencies must make “original records of entry” available for inspection “without any redaction, omission or claim of exemption,” according to the settlement agreement.
Yet Garcia wants to keep parts of the record out of sight. The sheriff’s office also isn’t releasing lapel camera or dashboard camera video of the incident, pending review by county attorneys. That review needs to be completed and the records released. It doesn’t take days to watch a video and review case law, especially when the settlement language is clear.
Here’s what the settlement calls for — “DPS shall treat 911 tapes, 911 transcripts, initial incident reports, initial offense reports, accident and traffic offense reports, radio tapes, dispatch tapes, radio logs, mug shots and CAD printouts as ‘original records of entry’ as defined by the New Mexico Arrest Record Information Act.”
Further, “DPS shall make all such ‘original records of entry’ as set forth in Paragraph 5 available for inspection and copying on or before the deadlines imposed by [the Inspection of Public Records Act] without any redaction, omission or claim of exemption.”
The Halloween night incident, embarrassing as it was, already has been written about. The officers involved were identified through other sources. According to the incident report, police were sent to the Allsup’s, 2640 Agua Fría St., after a convenience clerk heard yelling outside (the sheriff’s office then was called in because the couple involved were city cops). Lt. Andrea Dobyns and Officer Joe Baca — who have since resigned — were identified as the couple arguing. They were off-duty at the time, and had stopped by Allsup’s with an unidentified woman who wanted to buy cigarettes. The three evidently had been celebrating Halloween at a bar.
There is no reason for the names of people involved to be redacted. Susan Boe, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, told reporter Daniel J. Chacón that, “If they’re named in the original record of entry, then it has to be given up.”
As Chacón reported, Attorney General Hector Balderas’ Inspection of Public Records Act compliance guide further states that the law requires public access to “virtually all public records.” Legitimate exceptions include “law enforcement records that reveal confidential sources, methods, information or individuals accused but not charged with a crime.”
It’s the latter loophole to which Garcia appears to be clinging, saying he cannot “put out someone’s name” who hasn’t been charged with a crime. However, his agency and other law enforcement offices do that all the time when releasing initial incident reports. The exception might work if Dobyns or Baca had been accused of a crime, but not charged, and an investigation was continuing. That’s not the case here.
What it looks like is one officer doing another a favor, hiding details to avoid embarrassment. Garcia’s actions make it appear that there’s plenty to hide, even if there isn’t. Perhaps the videos are particularly revealing — people who have been drinking often say and do the darndest things. Or perhaps they’re not revealing at all. By not simply adhering to the well-established public records law, Garcia is creating mystery and speculation where none might be necessary. What was likely a one-day story is stretched over several days, all because the sheriff is holding back.
Stop covering up, and release the records as the law requires. After all, even sheriffs — especially sheriffs — should follow the law.