The state Senate approved a bill Monday that would allow government agencies to redact the names of victims and most witnesses from police reports of rape, stalking and domestic violence until a defendant has been charged.
Senate Bill 149 would amend the state’s public records law to add this exception. Senators voted 40-0 for the measure, which next goes to the House of Representatives.
The sponsor, Sen. Jacob Candelaria, said the bill would “extend the same protections and dignity to victims of rape and intimate partner violence as the law currently provides to their rapists.”
New Mexico’s public records law already prohibits government agencies from releasing the names of people who are suspected of a crime but have not been charged.
“This bill establishes parity and gives the victims … that same protection,” said Candelaria, D-Albuquerque.
But the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government sees it differently. Peter St. Cyr, executive director of the advocacy group, said immediately after the vote, “It’s not a crime victim protection bill. It’s an anti-transparency bill.”
St. Cyr said that instead of protecting victims the bill would shield institutions and police agencies that perform “shoddy investigations” of crimes. And, he said, withholding such information could endanger the public in cases of serial rapists.
He also noted that virtually no mainstream news organizations publish the names of victims in the crimes that Candelaria has flagged.
“The Santa Fe New Mexican does not publish the names of victims in cases involving sexual assault or domestic violence,” said Ray Rivera, editor of the newspaper.
During the Senate’s debate on the bill, Candelaria read part of a letter from a sexual assault victim with doubts about other media.
The writer said the bill would protect victims from “their assailants, bloggers and Facebook trolls who would like nothing more than an opportunity to re-victimize” people who have already been hurt. “Reputable news organizations are no longer the only gatekeepers for the dissemination of information. In a world where anyone with a computer can create a blog with all the trappings of journalism but none of the oversight, the security of victims is not something that should be taken so lightly.”
Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, said the bill would help people like his wife. Years ago, he said, his wife woke to find an attacker in her room. She later learned that he was Robert Howard Bruce, a serial rapist, who preyed on women in Albuquerque between 1991 and 2001. Bruce was known as “Ether Man” because he used ether to disable victims.
Unlike most of Bruce’s victims, Ivey-Soto said, his wife was able to fend him off. Police in Pueblo, Colo., arrested Bruce after he had committed crimes in that state. Bruce also was convicted of rapes in New Mexico and Oklahoma. For his attacks on 12 victims in New Mexico, Bruce was sentenced in 2012 to 156 years in prison.
The name of Ivey-Soto’s wife or the names of Bruce’s other victims were never revealed by reporters, the senator said. But, he added, “For 15 years there has been a police report out there. My wife’s name shows up but the attacker’s does not.”