A whistleblower’s report detailed in a report published Friday by The Federalist indicates that the New Mexico state Child, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD) used an encrypted messaging application in a way that destroyed public records. The app reportedly automatically deleted messages between officials during the time the death of an abused child was reported to the agency.
Cliff Gilmore was fired as the CYFD public information officer last May. His wife, Debra Gilmore, was terminated at the same time as a CYFD attorney. The pair faced retribution when they expressed concerns about the agency’s use of the messaging app Signal.
The Gilmore firings became a scandal for Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who directed state agencies to use the Signal app in official communications. Signal encrypts messages and features automatic deletion of records at least every 10 days.
The New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) provides that documents subject to public inspection be maintained so that proper oversight can be maintained for requests.
Although the New Mexico attorney general’s office issued an opinion in September 2020 that the use of Signal does not constitute a technical violation of IPRA, it cautioned that anything that causes the destruction of public records could lead to problems with IPRA compliance.
The controversy surrounding the Gilmore firings led the CYFD to stop its use of Signal. However, the agency still reportedly uses Microsoft Teams as an alternate messaging system. That software also has the capability to automatically delete official communications.
Automatic deletion of government records has led to problems with what should be routine oversight of claims of official misconduct.
A wrongful death lawsuit was filed last month against CYFD related to the 2019 death of four-year-old James Dunklee. The child was beaten to death by a boyfriend of a friend he and his mother were staying with. The assailant pleaded guilty to intentional child abuse causing death and faces life in prison.
Attorneys for the child’s family told reporters that there is substantial evidence that the abuse of the child was shared with CYFD officials multiple times before he was actually killed. They claim that the agency has engaged in a desperate cover-up of its records regarding the case because of its failure to protect the child.
Cliff Gilmore told The Federalist that CYFD staff was using the Signal messaging app during the times relevant to the child’s abuse and death. The automatic deletion feature obviously obstructs any efforts to investigate the case and claims of negligence against the state.