U.S School Shooting: Texas Department Of Public Safety Sued By Over A Dozen U.S Media Outlets

U.S School Shooting: Texas Department Of Public Safety Sued By Over A Dozen U.S Media Outlets

By Aaron Miller-

Over a dozen major US news organizations are banding together to sue the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) for failing to release public records related to the shooting at Robb elementary school in Uvalde that left 19 children and two teachers dead.

The lawsuit comes after reporters from a number of local and national news outlets were denied over 70 requests made to the DPS surrounding the shooting under the Texas Public Information Act.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Haynes and Boone law firm. The lawsuit seeks to force the DPS to produce all requested records related to the Uvalde shooting so that the public can understand what really happened that day.

The Act  stipulates an obligation  for governmental bodies to release information in the interest of the public.

Among the news outlets involved in the lawsuit are the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Texas Tribune, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and others.

Other  media organizations  lodging a suit 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.

DPS  refused to release records in response to these requests, even as the agency has selectively disclosed some information through public testimony, third-party analyses and news conferences.

The DPS selectively released information through press conferences and report and  refused to enforce the disclosure of records of call logs, body camera footage, interview notes and other files to members of the press, citing an ongoing investigation as the reason.

While exceptions to records requests are allowed in certain instances, these news organizations are arguing the investigation is no longer continuing since it was declared the 18-year old gunman was guilty and acted alone.

“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 awful 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.”

A comprehensive report released in July by a Texas House of Representatives committee found numerous law enforcement agencies, including the state police, failed to aggressively confront the gunman, who killed 19 students and two teachers over the course of about 77 minutes. DPS has provided little information about the actions of its 91 officers who responded to the scene.

State Law

Under state law,  a specific exemption must be made to deny information requested under the Public Information Act .

DPS has discreditably  claimed 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.

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 Texas Department of Public Safety has offered inconsistent accounts of how law enforcement responded to the Uvalde tragedy, and its lack of transparency has stirred suspicion and frustration in a community that is still struggling with grief and shock,” said Laura Lee Prather, a First Amendment lawyer at Haynes Boone who represents the plaintiffs. “DPS has refused numerous requests by these news organizations even though it’s clear under Texas law that the public is entitled to have access to these important public records. We ask that the court grant our petition so that the people of Texas can understand the truth about what happened.”

While exceptions to records requests are allowed in certain instances, these news organizations are arguing the investigation is no longer continuing since it was declared the 18-year old gunman was guilty and acted alone.

“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 plaintiffs said in a statement.

One  narrative that emerged was from a DPS commissioned report from the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (Alerrt), which stated an officer saw the shooter outside of the school and failed to act because he was awaiting a directive from his supervisor. Uvalde mayor Don McLaughlin later claimed that it was not the shooter the officer saw, but a coach with children on the playground.

 

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