Same annoying story, part whatever. Getting public records about this tragedy shouldn’t be this hard to do.
More than a dozen news organizations filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Public Safety on Monday, accusing the agency of unlawfully withholding public records related to the May school shooting in Uvalde.
The organizations — which include The Texas Tribune and its partner ProPublica and other local, state and national newsrooms — have each filed requests under the Texas Public Information Act for information detailing the response by various authorities, including law enforcement, to the massacre.
“In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, and continuing throughout the ensuing two months, DPS has declined to provide any meaningful information in response to the Requests regarding the events of that day — despite the unfathomable reality that some 376 members of law enforcement responded to the tragedy, and hundreds of those were in the school or on school property not going into the unlocked classroom where the gunman continued killing helpless youth,” the lawsuit states. “At the same time, DPS has offered conflicting accounts regarding the response of law enforcement, the conduct of its officers, the results of its own investigation, and the agency’s justifications for withholding information from the public.”
DPS is claiming an exemption for records related to an ongoing investigation, but the news organizations argue there is no such investigation, given the guilt of the gunman is not in dispute and authorities say the 18-year-old acted alone. The local prosecutor, Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee, has acknowledged that she is not conducting a criminal investigation.
The records requested include emails; body camera and other video footage; call logs, 911 and other emergency communications; interview notes; forensic and ballistic records; and lists of DPS personnel who responded to the tragedy, among other information.
The plaintiffs include The New York Times Company, The Washington Post, NBC News, CNN, ABC News, CBS News, Scripps Media and Gannett. The Texas Tribune and ProPublica, who also joined the suit, have filed about 70 records requests.
See here and here for some background. It’s not just been DPS that has been resistant to releasing information, but they’ve definitely dug in their heels. However this ends up, expect it to be fought till the bitter end in court.
Perhaps one reason why DPS is so reluctant to give up any of their information is because any time any data about the Uvalde massacre gets released, law enforcement just looks bad.
On July 17, the city of Uvalde released nearly 3.5 hours of video from city police body cameras. The stream of recordings came only hours after a special Texas House committee investigating the massacre issued a report that condemned the law enforcement response as a jumble of missed opportunities and unlearned lessons from past mass shootings.
The recordings — from seven Uvalde officers’ body cameras — show officers anxious, frustrated or confused by conflicting information. Several frantically searched for a master key for Room 111’s door, which apparently was unlocked.
The footage also shows a steadily increasing flow of police officers from other local, state and federal agencies into Robb Elementary, beginning less than 10 minutes after Ramos began shooting inside the classrooms. Some of the police carried rifles. Some wore body armor or full protective gear.
The recordings — especially of the radio message at 12:11 a.m. alerting officers that wounded victims were trapped in the rooms with Ramos — could become pivotal as prosecutors weigh whether to charge some of the responding officers with a crime because of their failure to confront the shooter much earlier in his rampage.
“They’re looking hard at when officers learned about kids being in the classrooms,” said one law enforcement source familiar with the conversations of prosecutors looking into the case. “At what point did (officers) know when the kids called from inside the classrooms?”
Christina Mitchell Busbee, district attorney of Uvalde and Real counties, has declined to comment on the investigation.
The Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Rangers are handling the probe, with input from Mitchell’s office. In August, the agencies are expected to hand over their findings to Mitchell, who will decide whether to file any charges.
I don’t know that any of the responding officers should be held criminally liable for their response, but I can damn sure imagine some civil lawsuits against the various agencies involved. But good luck building a case if you don’t have enough evidence.