A review of the investigation into the actions of a Bisbee animal control officer who attempted to prevent a videographer from recording her at a public park was completed this week, but the results may not be released until the end of August, city officials said.
Bisbee City Manager Theresa Coleman told the Herald/Review in an email that a review of the investigation of animal control officer Dolores Luberto would be completed last week. She also said that the newspaper would receive the documents once they were redacted at “the end of August.”
Neither Coleman nor Deputy Police Chief Joey Long responded Thursday or Friday when the newspaper asked why it would take six weeks to redact documents.
Saturday morning, James Ledbetter, Bisbee’s city attorney, sent a lengthy email to the Herald/Review, which said the report of the incident was finished, but “follow-up conversations must now occur with the involved officers based on the report’s recommendations.”
“This may trigger additions or supplements to the report,” Ledbetter said in his email. “Thereafter and consistently with city practice, the (police) chief reviews the report and makes a recommendation or recommendations to the City Manager.”
Ledbetter also wrote, “the implication that the city is somehow delaying is misleading and untrue.”
He also stated that “the report with its attachments, is hundreds of pages in length” and that he would keep the Herald/Review informed on efforts to redact the documents.
When reached for comment Friday, Bisbee Mayor David Smith said the report is 170 pages long, and agreed that a month and a half is a long time for redaction. But he also said the city has no one who can redact the documents.
“We don’t have anyone who redacts,” Smith said. “So our city clerk or our deputy clerk will have to do that because we just can’t hire someone to redact. I guess a month and a half is a long time. But I hope it’s the worst case scenario for the city. I hope that you would get the documents before that.”
Smith said he hates to keep saying that there is a lack of “manpower or womanpower” in the city, but that’s the reason he’s been given for the delay. He said he did not know why Coleman or Long did not explain that.
A lack of manpower is not mentioned in Ledbetter’s email, although he does note the investigation has been lengthy.
“Completing the investigation, transcribing of witness statements and initiating redaction of identities, for witness protection, is taking some time...” Ledbetter said.
David Cuillier, a professor of journalism at the University of Arizona and an expert on gaining access to government information, said Friday that the city could be in violation of the Arizona Public Records Law.
A portion of Chapter six of the statute, under the heading “Inspection and Copying of Public Records,” says, “If the custodian of public records does not promptly respond to record requests and promptly furnish records that are subject to disclosure, access will be deemed denied.”
“Obviously that’s not ‘promptly’ by anybody’s measures,” Cuillier said, referring to Bisbee’s redaction time frame. “They (Bisbee Police) are not following the law, and it’s a problem when police don’t follow the law.”
Cuillier, also the current president of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, said it should not take that long to redact documents and that the city faces a lawsuit by anyone who might want to challenge their handling of the public records request.
At least two other local law enforcement agencies — Sierra Vista Police and the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office — said it would not take their departments a month and a half to redact documents, even in extended investigations.
Sheriff’s spokeswoman Carol Capas said that even on the largest of investigations, the average redaction time would be about two weeks.
The Luberto investigation was prompted by an incident at Vista Park in the Warren district of Bisbee on June 10.
A videographer for a local blog, Bisbee News Network, was recording video at the park after a resident called Bisbee Animal Control about a rabid skunk near the park’s tennis courts.
Two videos — one taken by Bisbee News Network and another shot by the woman who called animal control about the critter — show Luberto ordering the videographer to leave the area, even though he is filming in a public place. Luberto then begins advancing toward the videographer and again tells him to leave, the video shows.
Luberto then calls for backup, saying that she has an individual who is “interfering with my investigation...”.
Minutes later a Bisbee Police Department sport utility vehicle with its lights and siren activated appears in the video and two officers quickly approach the videographer, take him down and handcuff him. All told, three policemen surround the man as he sits on the ground, the second video shows.
At the time of the incident, no one from the Bisbee Police Department returned calls. Coleman told the Herald/Review that Deputy Chief Long would not be commenting because he was in charge of investigating the matter.
Additionally, Coleman was asked if the three cops who responded to Luberto’s call were also under investigation. She later told the Herald/Review in an email that Luberto’s investigation would have to conclude first.
Cuillier said Bisbee’s residents should be concerned about the police department’s and city officials’ behavior.