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Sandoval County, New Mexico Settles Public Records Lawsuit with Human Rights Defense Center

Sandoval County, New Mexico on February 24, 2020, settled a public records lawsuit with the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent corporation of Prison Legal News, which alleged that the county had refused to provide records that were required to be released under the state’s Public Records Act. As part of the settlement, the county provided the requested records and paid HRDC’s $52,500 in legal fees, but was not required to admit wrongdoing.

HRDC had sought records as part of its ongoing mission to investigate and publicize payouts made by the county to settle lawsuits brought against local law enforcement authorities accused of wrongdoing. Although some records had initially been produced, HRDC alleged that $3,784,704.70 had been paid out from public funds without proper disclosure of the details, as required under state law.

New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act provides that it is the “public policy of this state, that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of public officers and employees .... (and) that to provide persons with such information is an essential function of a representative government.” 

Nonetheless, despite numerous requests, the county’s production was incomplete, omitting critical details as to the basis for substantial monentary payouts by the county, and it became necessary for HRDC to file suit. It was later determined that the county paid out money for numerous claims alleging negligence, excessive force, inappropriate use of an isolation cell, sexual abuse, lack of adequate medical care, and, in one instance, the death of a prisoner.

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Related legal case

Human Rights Defense Center v. Board of County Commissioners for the County of Sandoval, et al.