Police Complaints

New Cover-Up: Albuquerque Police Illegally Suppressing Public Complaints

Complaints against police officers are public records in New Mexico. At PoliceComplaints.info, we have published hundreds of pages of citizen police complaints. We have never had any difficulty obtaining these public records.

Until now.

The Albuquerque Police Department is the records custodian of citizen police complaints. They recently instituted a new policy of censoring these public records. They still send them out on demand, but not before redacting them, blocking out virtually all the relevant information. This new APD policy makes a complete mockery of the citizens’ right to inspect records and hold police officers accountable for misconduct.

Last year, Police Complaints requested and received citizen complaints against APD officer Steve Hindi, one of Albuquerque’s most complained-about cops. And last month, a journalist from KUNM radio requested the same documents.

The sample documents below illustrate APD’s new public records policy.

The document on the left was furnished to Police Complaints in 2011. It shows part of a citizen police complaint and includes a narrative, written by the citizen, alleging numerous acts of misconduct by officer Steve Hindi (see the full complaint). The black marks are redactions made by Police Complaints to protect the privacy of the complainant and witnesses.

The document on the right is another complaint against the same APD officer. It was furnished by APD last week to Barron Jones, journalist at KUNM Radio. The document is supposed to be a public record—and it was, last year. But last week, the police department blocked out all the important information. Officer Hindi’s name is still legible, but all the other facts, including the specific allegations of misconduct, have been censored by the Albuquerque Police Department.

New redaction policy in violation of the law

The facts of a citizen police complaint are a matter of public record. So is the investigation into the alleged misconduct. Also public are any findings and any discipline imposed on the officer. All these public records have been illegally suppressed by the Albuquerque Police Department.

The right of the public to inspect citizen police complaints is protected by the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act. This right was upheld in a 2010 New Mexico Appeals Court decision Cox v NMDPS. Because numerous police agencies around the state were continuing to violate state statute and case law, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office found it necessary in 2012 to issue a determination letter asserting that police complaints and discipline records are public records and subject to public inspection.

But the Albuquerque Police Department apparently didn’t get the memo. APD censors information that the legislature, the courts, and the attorney general all say should be public. The Albuquerque Police Department is breaking the law.

These documents, these blank pages—they’re an insult.
—KUNM reporter Barron Jones

Some public records suppressed altogether

Barron Jones is a journalist at KUNM Radio. He was intrigued by the documents published at Police Complaints and decided to do some investigating of his own. He sent an IPRA request to the Albuquerque city clerk, seeking copies of all citizen complaints lodged against Steve Hindi. Since he had already seen the documents published at Police Complaints, he had a pretty good idea what to expect.

He certainly didn’t expect to receive illegally censored records. “My news director just laughed,” says Jones. “I mean, these documents, these blank pages—they’re a joke. They’re an insult.”

APD didn’t just censor the documents they sent Jones. They suppressed some documents entirely. For example, Police Complaints obtained documents in 2011 involving a complaint that another APD officer had lodged against Steve Hindi. It was determined that Hindi had interfered with an investigation and he was punished with a 2-day unpaid suspension. The police department flatly refused to furnish that complaint, along with numerous others.

“They told me those complaints were too old,” says Jones. “They said they purge them after three years.”

Albuquerque police say department policies require them to remove older complaints from an officer’s personnel file. But Jones points out that the records probably still exist. “It’s one thing for them to remove old complaints from a cop’s file, but the records should still be available. They can’t just destroy them.”

APD furnishing illegal redactions to other requesters as well

Jones isn’t the only journalist to receive illegally redacted documents from the Albuquerque police. Investigators at Police Complaints recently received the same treatment.

Several weeks ago, we sent an IPRA demand seeking to inspect public records about APD officer Dennis Barela. Barela was recently disciplined for sexual misconduct on the job so we naturally wanted to see his record. We requested numerous public records pertaining to complaints and lawsuits about Barela, including Barela’s entire personnel retention file.

In response, the APD records custodian sent us a scant few pages, apparently just a single citizen police complaint from 2009, illegally redacted to suppress all details. Our demand to inspect Barela’s retention file was simply ignored.

When a records custodian denies access to any part of a public record, they are required by law to explain why. According to the Attorney General, the custodian must deliver a written denial that “contains the names and titles of each person responsible for denying the request and describes the reasons for the denial.” [IPRA Compliance Guide, 7th edition, page 57]

No such explanation was included with any of the redacted documents recently furnished by APD.

Legal remedies offered by IPRA

Police Complaints has called and KUNM has emailed APD records custodian to seek the written explanation required by IPRA. At press time, no response has been received.

State law provides specific remedies for citizens whose right to inspect public records is unreasonably infringed by government employees. Citizens are entitled to recover all legal fees and can be awarded punitive damages in amounts up to $100 for each day that inspection is denied.

  • The time has come for APD to be disbanded.

  • The lies continues at APD. The community must keep asking questions. APD wants to hide it all.