for refusing to release body camera footage showing police shooting a man to death.
The ACLU of New Mexico is representing Burque Media and other plaintiffs in a suit against the police department for denying public records requests.
The Albuquerque Police Department has encountered several other similar lawsuits in the past.
On January 15, 2015, Burque Media requested all body camera footage from officers regarding the shooting of John O’Keefe. O’Keefe was shot and killed by Albuquerque police officers on January 13th.
Police did release some body cam footage, but it did not include the actual shooting. However, that video shows several other officers standing around O’Keefe’s body who should have been wearing cameras.
This is how KOAT initially reported on the shooting:
Officers responding to a suspicious criminal activity call at 4:45 p.m. Tuesday found two men. They took one into custody, and 34-year-old John Edward O’keefe fled on foot.
Police said Okeefe fired at police while fleeing the scene.
He continued to fire when officers located him again, and that’s when he was fatally shot by an officer, police said. They also said a .45-caliber long Colt was found near Okeefe’s body, and he was wearing police-issued body armor.
APD said both items were stolen from a Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputy. The deputy was at work when his residence was burglarized Jan. 12. It’s unclear if he was targeted because he’s in law enforcement.
However, Albuquerque police never released the requested video citing it as investigative material too sensitive for public release:
“That video might seriously interfere with the effectiveness of a criminal investigation, while at the same time the release might also unfairly cast suspicion of innocent people”
But Burque Media refuted those claims with a public records lawsuit, which you can read here.
The suit claims the Albuquerque Police Department violated the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act.
Video footage from the lapel cameras worn by police officers constitutes public records as defined by IPRA. NMSA 1978, § 14-2-6 (G), according to the suit.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs are asking for:
-Defendants to provide the requested public records to Plaintiffs
-Award damages, costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees to Plaintiffs
-Grant such other and further relief as to the Court seems proper.
“Citizens and journalists shouldn’t have to resort to filing a lawsuit every time they want a public record from the Albuquerque Police Department, APD should stop wasting taxpayer money defending against these lawsuits, follow the law, and give people access to public records,” said Andy Christophersen, the founder of Burque Media.
In fact, Reynaldo Chavez is the former Public Information Officer for the Albuquerque Police Department and he is suing his old employer for wrongful termination.
Chavez was fired because he complained to upper level police officials that Police Chief Gorden Eden told Chavez to find ways to deny public information requests made by the media and the general public.
What is even more interesting to note is the fact that the Albuquerque Police Department paid TV news station KRQE $45,000 in a contentious legal battle for failing to provide body camera videos.
If that weren’t enough, the ABQ Free Press also won a lawsuit against the Albuquerque Police Department for denying public records request pertaining to their weapons arsenal.
In another judicial fight, a judge ordered that the Albuquerque Police Department release footage and information pertaining to a skate park shooting that resulted in the death of 17 year old Jaquis Lewis.
The ACLU Legal Director Alexandra Freedman Smith mentioned:
“To ensure public trust in law enforcement, citizens and journalists must have access to information about how police use force in the community. The Albuquerque Police Department must rise to this basic standard of openness and transparency, follow the law, and provide this information to the people they serve.”
The Albuquerque Police Department has a long history of officer involved shootings and records violation lawsuits.