County declines open records request

Curry County officials are refusing to disclose an administrative review of a June 27 assault at the jail, saying its contents fall under attorney-client privilege.

County Attorney Stephen Doerr made the determination Friday in denying a Clovis News Journal request to inspect the review prepared by Adult Detention Center Capt. Keith Farkas.

Doerr said it is Administrator Gerry Billy's position the review was prepared "for purposes of providing information to the County's lawyer with regard to the tort claims notice," filed June 29 by inmate Jaime Perez's attorney Tye Harmon.

"As the documents provided by Mr. Billy are covered (by) the attorney/client privilege," Doerr wrote in an email, "they are not subject to an inspection of public records request."

The executive director of a state open records watchdog group said she is not convinced the county is right in denying inspection of the review.

The issue centers on the alleged assault of Perez by Louis Guerra, who was convicted of killing Perez's brother. Perez, a witness against Guerra, was placed in the same pod of cells with Guerra. Hours later Guerra is alleged to have attacked Perez with a broom handle.

Gwyneth Doland of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government said if the administrative review was requested before notice of a lawsuit was filed, it may qualify for public inspection under state open records laws.

Doerr said Billy did not remember what day he requested the administrative review but it was within a day or two of receiving the tort claim from Harmon on June 29.

In sworn statements filed in Magistrate Court, Sheriff's Deputy Sandy Loomis said he and Farkas agreed a day earlier on June 28 that Loomis would conduct a criminal investigation of the assault and Farkas would handle an administrative review.

"In this case it appears the administrative review was requested before any lawsuit was filed," Doland said. "It appears to be a simple request to find out what happened here and it should be produced in response to the … public records request."

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