Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan at a recent press conference. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
ACLU New Mexico has filed a tort claims notice against Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan and the Board of Rio Arriba County Commissioners on behalf of Tabitha Clay, a reporter for the Rio Grande SUN newspaper, arising from “a continuing series of conduct in retaliation for Ms Clay’s reporting”.
“As you are aware from interactions with Ms. Clay and stories in the Rio Grande Sun, these incidents have been ongoing and include: a July 1, 2019 situation involving conduct by Officer Jeremy Barnes and the Sheriff (James) Lujan at the scene of a fatal accident; a September 10, 2019 incident wherein Officers Jeremy Barnes and Jerry Albo were parked outside Ms. Clay’s apartment in Santa Fe County; and refusal on September 16, 2019 by deputies of the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office to permit Ms. Clay to enter the Rio Arriba County Court with equipment she regularly used as a member of the press and was regularly permitted to bring into the court with her,” the tort claims notice states.
The notice says Clay may bring claims for personal injury resulting from enumerated torts under NMSA 1978, § 41-4-16 including assault and deprivation of rights, privileges and immunities secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States and of the State of New Mexico, and/or other claims caused by officials, employees, and agents of Rio Arriba County and the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office while acting within the scope of their duties.
“It is further anticipated that claims may be presented pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arising from the deprivation of rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution,” the notice states.
Clay told the Los Alamos Reporter Thursday evening that last week marked her one-year anniversary at the Rio Grande SUN and that she has truly loved every minute of living and reporting in the valley.
“I’m not ready to get into the details of why I’m being represented by the ACLU, but a lot of the backstory has already been published in the SUN. A lot of it still hasn’t, and I’m not sure when it will be,” she said.
“Freedom of the press is a fundamental part of our democracy. I think an official who retaliates against or attacks the press is simply a bully and public servants or others who block media access are bullies, too,” Clay said. “Without a free press, officials can easily hide misdeeds or corruption. They can create dangerous policies without scrutiny from the public. In short, they can do some really bad things.”
To read the story in the RGS by Clay’s colleague Amanda Martinez, click here: