County declines to release jail assessment

CNJ staff

Curry County has denied the Clovis News Journal’s request for a copy of a jail assessment presented at a Sept. 3 County Commission meeting.

The New Mexico Association of counties prepared the assessment following the Aug. 24 escape of eight inmates from the Curry County Adult Detention Center.

Four inmates have since been captured; those who remain at large include a convicted killer and an accused killer.

County Manager Lance Pyle wrote in a letter to the CNJ that the only document the county has received was delivered to County Attorney Stephen Doerr. “The document provided to Mr. Doerr is confidential under the Attorney-Client Privilege and as such is exempted from the Inspection of Public Records Act …,” Pyle wrote.

“No document or copies were provided to or shared with myself, any County Commissioner or any other employee or representative of Curry County.”

Leonard DeLayo, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government said Wednesday he believes the county’s refusal to turn over the document violates inspection of public records law.

“I think it is a serious violation of the spirit and intent of open government,” he said.

“(The citizens have a right to know because) it’s the citizen’s safety that’s at risk. … I think (county officials are) off base.”

A phone call to the state’s attorney general’s office was not returned on Wednesday.

The CNJ had requested any documents provided to Curry County by the New Mexico Association of Counties as related to an assessment of the jail after county commissioners spent more than 2 1/2 hours in a closed, executive session with consultants on Sept. 3.

In a packet provided to commissioners for that meeting, a detention center report submitted by Interim Detention Administrator Audrey Barriga said, “The assessment has been done by Manuel Romero from (the New Mexico Association of Counties) and will be discussed with the commission in executive session.”

Romero and NMAC did not respond to e-mail and telephone inquiries Wednesday.

Pyle declined to answer questions Wednesday regarding the assessment.

Newspaper Editor David Stevens said the newspaper will continue efforts to make the jail assessment public.

“I’m not surprised Curry County is once again working hard to keep secrets from the taxpayers … just disappointed,” Stevens said.

“I understand why county officials don’t want anyone to know the contents of the jail assessment — I’m sure they’re embarrassed, as they should be after allowing eight violent inmates to escape.

“But the problems with the jail are a community safety issue. Taxpayers have a right to know what’s in this report. More importantly, they need to know. How else can they be sure Lance Pyle and the county commissioners are being held responsible for operations at the jail?”