In a case in which he risked going to jail for contempt of court, Albuquerque Mayor David Rusk has won a fight to withhold portions of police personnel files from a federal grand jury investigating police brutality in Albuquerque.
At a hearing Tuesday in Santa Fe, U.S.* district Court Judge Santiago Campos accepted expurgated police files from first-term Mayor Rusk, the son of former secretary of state Dean Rusk. Campos voided contempt-of-court charges and a $150,000 fine he imposed Dec. 15 against Rusk and two city attorneys.
For six months Rusk refused to give up the personnel files of two officers accused of brutality. He argued that "There is nothing in them directly related to the case" under investigation, and that they contain testimony compelled from the officers under threat of firing, and with the promise of confidentiality.
Found in contempt, and facing heavy fines, Rusk finally turned the files over to the grand jury Dec. 18-but only after deleting all compelled testimony.
Explaining why he accepted that limited compliance, Campos said Tuesday, "It was not until today that evidence was presented specifically related to the manner in which the [compelled] statements were obtained." Before his ruling, Campos had questioned the two officers in his chambers.
The officers were represented by an attorney with the New Mexico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He said afterwards, "The officers have a legitimate Fifth Amendment right not to have compelled testimony used against them."
The assistant U.S. attorney who demanded the files said he has not decided whether to appeal the decision. The grand jury term expires Jan. 8.
Rusk said he was "highly pleased" with the sudden reversal. Campos said Dec. 15 he considered jailing Rusk for his continued defiance.
"I don't tend to think in apocalyptic terms," Rusk said after Tuesday's ruling.
"The decision was highly important, though, in terms of the potential loss of good internal police discipline," he said. "Compelledn testimony is critical information" in department investigations.
Throughout his battle with the grand jury Rusk maintained that internal police investigations are the most effective safeguard against police brutality.