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Judge awards $28,000 and attorneys fees to plaintiff

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FARMINGTON — A district court judge has ordered the New Mexico Department of Public Safety to pay damages to the brother of a man shot dead by a Farmington police officer as part of a public records lawsuit.

The judge also ruled the department released skewed information on the officer-involved shooting that favored the police officer and against the interests of Frankie Anchondo's family.

Bryan Biedscheid, a district court judge for the First Judicial District Court, ruled on Sept. 12 that DPS pay Felix Anchondo $28,000 plus attorneys' fees following a June 26 nonjury trial in Santa Fe District Court.

Frankie was shot and killed on the night of Dec. 20, 2017, by Farmington police Officer Brandt Warman on Riverstone Road, just north of U.S. Highway 64 in Farmington.

A panel of district attorneys from across the state ruled earlier this year the shooting was justified and did not involve excessive force.

The lawsuit was filed against the department on March 1, 2018, in the First Judicial District Court. A similar lawsuit was filed against the city of Farmington, but it was dismissed on Jan. 15, according to court records.

DPS on Jan 23, 2018, invoked the law enforcement exception on a records request filed by Felix. The state police handled the investigation of the shooting.

The judge's ruling stated DPS did not produce additional documents to Felix until May 15, more than nine months after the investigation was turned over to the San Juan County District Attorney's Office on Aug. 8, 2018.

It also states DPS did cause harm to Felix with the "unjustified delay" in providing the documents in the IRPA requests.

The New Mexico Department of Public Safety issued a statement on the judge's decision to The Daily Times on Oct. 4.

"The court’s conclusions, and the new law amending the law enforcement exception has resulted in the Department of Public Safety implementing new policies to review and release all non-confidential information to ensure the public can fully exercise its right to know," the agency responded.

Adam Flores, one of the attorneys representing Felix, stated it had become routine practice for DPS to hold all information related to an officer-involved shooting, sometimes years after the investigation is completed.

Flores stated Felix testified in court, stating the lack of access to public records affected his family, as they did not know what had happened to Frankie.

Biedscheid also ruled that DPS "exacerbated" the harm done to the Anchondo family by depriving the family of information as DPS skewed and editorialized information in favor of Warman and Farmington police.

Flores said New Mexico State Police controlled the public narrative on the shooting by releasing highly editorialized information while denying access to the public records to Frankie's family.

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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