FOG sends city of Rio Rancho letter seeking wrongfully denied records

The following letter was sent to the Rio Rancho City Attorney:

January 14, 2022

Greg Lauer
City Attorney for Rio Rancho
3200 Civic Center Circle Northeast
Rio Rancho, NM 87144
Sent via email to: glauer@rrnm.gov

Dear Mr. Lauer,

I am writing on behalf of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG) in response to your
letter of December 27 to Victoria Traxler, public safety reporter for The New Mexican newspaper in
Santa Fe.

Your letter constitutes a blanket denial of Ms. Traxler’s request for any and all 911 audio on December
7 and December 8 related to an incident at the address of 5748 Sandoval Drive Northeast Rio Rancho,
any and all 911 audio on December 8 related to the accidental shooting death of a two-year-old child
in the area of enchanted Hills, and any and all available police reports for RRPD case number
21008918.

The only publicly available information on this matter is a press release issued by the Rio Rancho
Police Department saying that a toddler, the child of a Santa Fe police officer had died from a gunshot
wound and from a search warrant affidavit filed in court the following week which references a 911
phone call in which Courtney Harmon told a police dispatcher her son had fallen from a chair and
there was blood everywhere and that her husband, Santa Fe police officer Jonathan Harmon, was
performing CPR to try to revive the boy. The search warrant does state that investigators found a shell
casing and an empty gun holster in the kitchen of the couple’s home where Lincoln Harmon died.

Obviously this is a matter of great public concern, and it is FOG’s that the city’s blanket refusal to
produce any records pursuant to the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act under the “as
otherwise provided by law“ exception is inconsistent both with law and longtime practice.

The Children’s Code protects a wide range of information, such as diagnostic reports and mental
health assessments from disclosure by CYFD. But what sought here under IPRA is basic police
information involved in the unfortunate death of a child. 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 CYFD and various
records custodians, based on our experience on this issue.

By way of concrete example, these types of records were not withheld in a wide range of cases
involving the tragic death of children. Citing just a few, that would include Omaree Varela, Victoria
Martens, and more recently James Dunklee Cruz. 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 was not.

Further, records such as the initial police report of responding officers has consistently been held to
be public under IPRA. There should be no question when it comes to that record.

In closing, we ask you to reconsider your denial of Ms. Traxler’s IPRA request and make those records
available. Further I am making a mirror request on behalf of FOG for the same records pursuant to the
Inspection of Public Records Act. They include any and all 911 audio on December 7 and December 8
related to an incident at the address of 5748 Sandoval Drive Northeast Rio Rancho, any and all 911
records on December 8 related to the accidental shooting death of a two-year-old child in the area of
Enchanted Hills and all police reports for RRPD case number 21008918.

Thank you in advance for your consideration. 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. If you have
questions and would like to discuss with a member of our legal panel, I’m sure we could arrange for
that conversation.

Sincerely,
Shannon E. Kunkel
Executive Director
New Mexico Foundation for Open Government

Cc: Victoria Traxler, The New Mexican
Daniel Valenzuela, IPRA Compliance Administrator
FOG legal panel