SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Department of Corrections has spent the last six months fighting the release of a 2014 report faulting the agency for not monitoring its inmate medical care contract, a report said.
The document is part of a whistleblower lawsuit filed by the department's former behavioral health bureau chief and details an investigation about the lack of audits surrounding inmate medical care in New Mexico's prison system, the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported Saturday.
Published in June 2014 by the McHard Accounting Consulting firm, the report substantiated former behavioral health bureau chief Bianca McDermott's claims about delinquent audits and the corrections department's alleged retaliation against her.
"Dr. McDermott's complaints that the audits were required and were not being conducted were in fact valid complaints," according to the report, obtained through a public records request. "The audits were supposed to be conducted to ensure that inmates were receiving adequate health care."
The report also noted that disciplinary action taken against McDermott "bear the hallmarks of retaliation."
The newspaper said the Corrections Department resisted releasing the report as part of the process of discovery, in which both sides in a court case share evidence, arguing the document was protected by attorney-client privilege or exceptions to the state's Inspection of Public Records Act regarding personnel files. The department failed to produce the report even after Ortiz ruled in March it should be made available to McDermott's attorney, the newspaper reported.
The New Mexico Supreme Court eventually denied a request by the Corrections Department to stop the report's release, the newspaper said.
According to an audio recording of a recent hearing, a state district judge said the behavior of Corrections Department officials in response to the case was among the most extreme examples of "willful, intentional and bad faith attempts to conceal evidence" he'd seen in his more than 30-year career.
Judge Raymond Ortiz sanctioned the state agency so severely for concealing and destroying evidence that essentially the only issue left to be decided is how much it will pay McDermott in damages, the newspaper said.
At the Aug. 5 hearing, Ortiz noted the department had destroyed evidence — including email accounts — while the case was in process.
"Even as another motion to compel was pending," Ortiz said, "another email account was deleted. . That is extremely troubling to the court."
Corrections Department spokesman Eric Harrison said the strategy regarding the case was crafted by the administration of former Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican.
While much of the litigation in the case took place during Martinez's administration, the battle over the McHard report has also been waged while Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, has been in office.
Lujan Grisham's spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said the governor only became aware of the controversy in August.
"I briefed her about the McHard report late last week," Stelnicki said. "Suffice to say she is greatly concerned by the appearance of any attempt to conceal evidence or obfuscate by Corrections, whether under the Martinez administration or not."
Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.santafenewmexican.com