Attorney General files IPRA lawsuit seeking full New Mexico State football investigation report
LAS CRUCES - The New Mexico Office of the Attorney General on Thursday filed an Inspection of Public Records lawsuit in Third Judicial District Court seeking a full report of an investigation into New Mexico State University.
The AG's office has an executive summary of Las Cruces attorney Raul Carrillo's investigation into the Aggies football program and head coach Doug Martin, but the office wants the full report, which NMSU has withheld, citing federal privacy laws.
"It is extremely disappointing and reckless that NMSU has not been fully transparent in how they have addressed abuse complaints that were brought forward by multiple parents and student athletes, and I will continue to take any action necessary to improve the health and safety of those individuals who attend public institutions in New Mexico," Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement.
The State is seeking the full report be made available, or, in the alternative, and following an in camera inspection, a copy of the record with the limited exempt portions and information redacted, as well as court costs and damages.
In a statement to the Sun-News, New Mexico State University Chancellor Dan Arvizu said the university stands behind its investigation and considers the matter closed.
"We were disappointed to read the Attorney General’s remarks in the media regarding NMSU," Arvizu said in a written statement. "Our university continues to be as transparent as possible on this issue, while also ensuring that we do not violate federal privacy laws designed to protect our students. As we have stated before, our investigation has found that Coach Martin and his staff have not violated any laws or regulations or any university policy and we consider this matter to be closed."
The AG's Office began looking into possible misconduct regarding the football program after receiving an anonymous letter on Nov. 27.
The Carrillo Law Firm, P.C. was tasked by University General Counsel Roy Collins, on Dec. 5, 2019, to respond to both issues raised by the New Mexico AG's office in correspondence with New Mexico State University President John Floros.
On March 4, NMSU leadership issued a statement that essentially closed the matter from the university's side, but the State has been conducting an independent review, which remains ongoing.
"The goal of this is to get access to the report and understand what the university looked at when they evaluated the complaints that were made and what they used to reach the conclusions they made," said Chief Counsel Matt Baca. "We want to see that because it will be critical to our side of the review, which is still active."
Baca said the State will seek to move as quickly as possible with regards to securing the full report.
In a letter dated Feb. 19, Chief Deputy Attorney General Tania Maestas wrote that New Mexico State has, "withheld a number of items, as they claim some information is protected by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act and also protected as confidential personnel matters. We continue to work with the University to obtain a completed investigative file."
The State's complaint addresses both IPRA and FERPA laws.
Regarding IPRA, the complaint states that the matters of opinion exception does not, "exempt facts from disclosure, nor does it operate as a blanket personnel or educational matter exception. It therefore does not permit Defendant to withhold the requested record in its entirety."
While FERPA prohibits disclosure by an educational institution of education records and personally identifiable information of its student, it does, "permit the disclosure of education records when the information within the record can be redacted such that the student or students cannot be identified or linked to the record itself," according to the complaint.
The complaint also states that NMSU violated IPRA by failing to provide a sufficient written explanation of its denial, specifically by identifying the name, title or position of each person responsible for the denial of records and seeks damages of $100 per day from the date NMSU failed to comply.
The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government provided a statement to the Sun-News, applauding "the Attorney General efforts to use the courts to secure the public’s documents from New Mexico State University."
"New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) is very clear on what constitutes a public record. IPRA has been in existence for more than 40 years, long enough for any agency to learn what is required to fully comply with the law. It’s unfortunate that legal remedies are required to force NMSU to provide the public with public information.
"Also, the limited personnel exception to IPRA is very narrow. It does not protect all records in a personnel file, nor all records related to discipline of employees. It applies only to “letters or memorandums which are matters of opinion in personnel files.” All other records relating to public employees, including records of discipline, reports, etc., are open to public inspection.
Sports Editor Jason Groves can be reached at 575-541-5459 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jpgroves.