City repeatedly denies applications for record in December child death


A back-and-forth between the city of Rio Rancho, Rio Rancho police, local newspapers and a government transparency advocacy group has led to an impasse over the records sought in the December shooting death of the son 2-year-old son of a Santa Fe police officer at a Rio Rancho home.
The city attorney and the Rio Rancho Police Department cited the Children’s Code to deny repeated requests for the Public Records Inspection Act — for 911 calls and initial police reports — made by the Newspaper, Santa Fe New Mexican and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, or FOG.
Knowing of the city’s policy of denying police report requests involving minors, and after multiple past disagreements with the city on this matter, the Observer did not request these records.
The demands center on the Dec. 8 death of Lincoln Harmon who, according to court records, was shot in the head inside the home of Santa Fe Police Officer Jonathan Harmon.
A search warrant affidavit provided by the courts says the boy’s mother told 911 dispatch that the boy fell from a chair, but arriving officers found a gun and holster nearby.

Shannon Kunkel

FOG executive director Shannon Kunkel said she was disappointed to receive the latest denial from Rio Rancho city attorney Gregory Lauer, who cited the Children’s Code as the reason for the denial.
“If ever a court or the legislature decides to strike out the confidentiality provisions of the Children’s Code so that you, Mrs. (Victoria) Traxler (of new mexican), or other types of media can access and exploit children’s confidential files and information, we may have a different conversation then,” Lauer told Kunkel in a Jan. 14 email.
On January 26, Lauer told the Newspaper the two confidentiality provisions of the Children’s Code cited for denial involved children “as victims” and “as offenders”.
In a letter to Lauer, Kunkel wrote that the circumstances surrounding Harmon’s death are “a matter of great public concern” and that Rio Rancho’s “categorical refusal” to release recordings “is inconsistent with both the longstanding law and practice”. It is also incompatible with the most recent IPRA guidance from the state attorney general’s office.
Kunkel wrote that nothing in the Children’s Code indicates that original input recordings like 911 calls “are covered by an unwritten but broad protective umbrella.” She said the same kinds of records had not been held up in other high-profile child deaths, including Omaree Varela and Victoria Martens.
“In the Rio Rancho case, if the broad secrecy approach you suggest was required were in fact the law, even the search affidavit would have been filed under seal. It was not,” Kunkel wrote. She said there should be “no question” of initial police reports being public under the IPRA and she asked Lauer to reconsider the denial.
“We hope you will agree that it would be best to avoid the time and expense of litigation on this issue,” Kunkel wrote.
Kunkel said FOG, which fears the denial will set a dangerous precedent for future claims, is weighing its next move.
the Observer filed a complaint with the state attorney general’s office in November 2020 for the city’s refusal to release these reports, but has received no opinion or decision despite multiple ongoing investigations. An earlier letter to FOG Executive Director Melanie Majors sent to the AG’s office about the matter in 2019 was also ignored.
(Argen editor Marie Duncan contributed to this report.)


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