The records that the Rio Grande SUN's weekly Police Blotter relies on have been delayed due to Española/Rio Arriba E911 Board Director Sheriff James Lujan. The delay also means the actions of local law enforcement in recent days are unknown.
The purpose for withholding a report that E911 has sent daily to the SUN for the better part of a decade has been described by Lujan in various ways, but recently there have been a lot of unexplained changes.
Lujan has made it no secret that he has been unhappy with the media since an article in May detailed how former deputy Jeremy Barnes used an electronic control weapon, or taser, on a 15-year-old special education student at Española Valley High School.
Deputies said they were warned not to talk to reporters or they would face swift punishment, and Barnes was ordered by Lujan to arrest a SUN reporter in July at the scene of a fatal accident in Medenales.
At an Aug. 4 E911 Board meeting, Lujan announced his intention to stop releasing dispatch logs, a previous SUN article states. The Board did not take any action on his proposal to “stop sending media logs out,” but multiple sources reported the board discussed the matter during an executive session convened for the purposes of discussing pending litigation.
An Open Meetings Act complaint was filed because the dispatch logs were not included as a topic for executive session discussion.
There was no official action taken during the meeting, Española Mayor Javier Sanchez said Monday.
A Sept. 19 email from the E911 Dispatch Center contained a new media report of dispatch calls containing no useful information compared to the report that the newspaper has received for years. The new censored version also withheld which law enforcement agency responded to the call for assistance.
In a phone interview minutes after the email was sent, Archuleta said Lujan told him to start sending the new report with significantly less information moving forward.
Archuleta did not say whether or not the E911 Board took official action to modify the reports and instead referred those questions to Lujan.
“The Board requested changes were made to the CAD logs sent out to the Rio Grande SUN as of today,” Archuleta wrote to Española Police Department interim chief Roger Jimenez, shortly after the interview with the SUN. “A sample of the run for today is attached. What do you think?”
Jimenez responded to Archuleta the next day.
“I don’t have an issue with providing the information we were previously providing,” Jimenez wrote. “I feel this could cause an issue for our records and city clerks by being consumed with (public records requests).”
Jimenez expressed interest in withholding information where “privacy is crucial,” or an officer was involved in a shooting, but ended with questions about whether or not the changes to the reports or dispatch logs had been reviewed by legal counsel.
He said he did not recall the Board taking any action or requesting any changes and the email from Archuleta came out of the blue.
Archuleta’s email to Jimenez was not addressed to anyone else, but E911 Director Petra Gutierrez and Sheriff James Lujan were copied on the message. It is unclear whether each Board member was emailed individually, or if the email about the changes was only sent to Jimenez.
Sanchez said he did not recall receiving an email, but also said he might have missed it.
Archuleta did not respond to emails requesting additional information about the changes.
Lujan said Monday the changes to the dispatch logs were to protect information such as social security numbers and driver’s license numbers.
He also said that the original report that used to be sent to the SUN had not been altered, he had Archuleta create an entirely new report to provide.
The dispatch records and log are used not only to compile the weekly Police Blotter, but also to highlight important law enforcement actions such as arrests, officer-involved shootings, and also to clarify the order of any events that might affect public safety.
It was the dispatch logs that revealed former deputy Jeremy Barnes forced a motorist off the road with the help of a citizen who threatened the man with a gun.
Likewise, the dispatch logs revealed when an Española police officer was out of jurisdiction and made a warrant arrest.
The dispatch logs, as original records of entry, cannot be redacted or modified, according to state law. The E911 Dispatch Center can require news organizations to request the logs, something the SUN has done for each day’s log since the changes were made.
A records request sent Sept. 19 for the full original dispatch log received a response the same day from Española Records Clerk Tyler Dominguez stating that the requested records would be provided on or before Oct. 4.
There is a possibility that Dispatch Center officials believe that by requiring the media to file a request the logs can be withheld or delayed as long as they are produced within the 15 day time-frame.
New Mexico Foundation for Open Government Director Melanie Majors said one of the things that public bodies need to remember is that they should produce the records as soon as possible.
The Inspection of Public Records Act states that when a records custodian who receives a written request “shall permit the inspection (of records) immediately or as soon as is practicable under the circumstances.”
Lujan confirmed that the original, fully detailed report still exists. Because it is an original record of entry and not subject to redaction, it is not clear why the dispatch records are not being released immediately after the request is received.
Additional requests for records and documents related to the dispatch logs and the new report format are still pending.
The Española Police Department and the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office have both been receiving daily records requests for all dispatched calls and activities in an effort to replace the information that was lost when Lujan made his decision.