AUSTIN — More than a dozen news organizations filed a lawsuit Monday against the Texas Department of Public Safety, accusing the agency of illegally 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 seeking information detailing the response from various authorities, including including the forces of order, to the massacre.
The DPS has refused to release documents in response to these requests, although the agency has selectively released certain information through public testimony, third-party analysis and press conferences.
“Immediately after the tragedy, and throughout the two months that followed, the DPS refused to provide meaningful information in response to inquiries about the events of that day – despite the dire reality to which some 376 members of the forces of the order responded. the tragedy, and hundreds of them were at school or on school property and did not enter the unlocked classroom where the gunman continued to kill helpless young people,” says the trial. “At the same time, the DPS offered conflicting accounts regarding the law enforcement response, the conduct of its officers, the results of its own investigation, and the agency’s justifications for not releasing information to the public. .”
A comprehensive report released in July by a Texas House of Representatives committee found that many law enforcement agencies, including state police, did not aggressively confront the shooter, who killed 19 students and two teachers in about 77 minutes. The DPS provided little information on the actions of its 91 officers who responded to the scene.
Under state law, documents are presumed to be public unless a government agency cites a specific exemption under the Public Information Act that permits the withholding of information.
The DPS is asking for an exemption for records related to an ongoing investigation, but news outlets say there is no such investigation, given that the shooter’s guilt is undisputed and that authorities say the 18-year-old acted alone. The local prosecutor, Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee, acknowledged she was not conducting a criminal investigation.
Records requested include email; 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 Texas Department of Public Safety has offered inconsistent accounts of how law enforcement responded to the Uvalde tragedy, and its lack of transparency has sparked suspicion and frustration in a community that is still dealing with grief and shock,” said Laura Lee Prather, a First Amendment attorney at Haynes Boone who represents the plaintiffs. “DPS has refused numerous requests from these news outlets, even though it is clear under Texas law that the public has a right to access these important public records. We ask that the court grant our motion so that the people of Texas can understand the truth about what happened.
Other 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, which also joined the lawsuit, filed about 70 tapings.
The lawsuit was filed in Travis County State District Court.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/08/01/uvalde-dps-texas-records-lawsuit-media-organizations/.