Sheri Raphaelson sued Rio Arriba County Clerk Linda Padilla on Aug. 28 after the County allegedly failed to respond adequately to an Inspection of Public Records Act request.
Raphaelson, an attorney and a former First Judicial District judge, requested on July 22 a December 2018 video of an area outside a Tierra Amarilla Detention Center cell.
Inmate Michael Garcia was being held in that cell when he died of complications from acute alcohol withdrawal in December 2018.
Raphaelson is currently representing Garcia’s brother, Felipe Garcia, in a wrongful death suit against the County, which alleges that County correctional officers’ failure to properly care for Michael Garcia led to his death.
Felipe Garcia’s suit also states that the plaintiff believes the County destroyed surveillance video footage that would have demonstrated that the correctional officers did not perform required regular welfare checks on Michael Garcia, checks that could have saved his life.
The video would have shown too that the guards did not respond to multiple calls for help from other inmates while Michael Garcia was dying, according to Felipe Garcia’s suit.
Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Deputy Isaiah Anaya watched the video in December 2018 and observed that guards were not checking on Michael Garcia hourly, as they are required to do, Felipe Garcia’s suit states.
But when Anaya requested a copy of the video, the County never provided it, according to Felipe Garcia’s suit. Nor did the County provide it in response to Raphaelson’s request through the Act.
Padilla’s office acknowledged receipt of Raphaelson’s request on July 22 with a letter, notifying her that the request had been sent to Detention Center Administrator Larry DeYapp and Assistant Administrator Jose Luis Gallegos.
Raphaelson alleges in her suit that she never heard back beyond that letter.
Through the Act, members of the public can request government documents. The local or state body from which the documents are requested must acknowledge the request within three business days of receipt and must explain when the body will respond, according to an Attorney General’s compliance guide.
Within 15 calendar days, inspection of requested documents must be allowed, unless the request is denied or deemed “excessively burdensome and broad,” the guide states.
A written explanation of a denial of a request is required if the request is to be denied, according to state law, Raphaelson states in her suit.
More than 15 calendar days have passed since Raphaelson requested the video, and she did not receive any written explanation of a denial of her request.
She is therefore asking the First Judicial District Court to enforce the provisions of the Act and to allow her to inspect the requested video.
Padilla, however, holds that she has fulfilled all her duties.
She said that it was the responsibility of DeYapp and Gallegos to fulfill the request after she sent the letter acknowledging receipt within three business days.
The County Clerk’s office will usually go through all records requests on a monthly basis and ensure that they have all received a response, she said, but she has been short-staffed so this time the office did not have a chance to do so.
But, she said, that monthly check is not an obligation.
“The only obligation our office has is to send a three-day letter to the requester and then send it out to whoever the IPRA belongs to,” she said. “Say that it belongs to my office, then it’s my obligation to fulfill it. But if it belongs to the Sheriff or to Larry (DeYapp), their responsibility is to respond to it. They’re the ones that know what they need.”
Gallegos, DeYapp and County Attorney Adán Trujillo did not return phone calls requesting comment about the matter before press time.