Texas shooting records could be blocked by a loophole in the law

Austin, Texas – As public pressure increases for more information the fatal shooting at Uvalde schoolsome fear Texas officials will use a loophole in the law to block the release of records — even for victims’ families — once the case is closed.

Since the May 24 shooting at a Texas elementary school that has left 19 children and two teachers dead, law enforcement officials have provided little or conflicting information, sometimes retracting statements hours after they were made. State police said some reports are preliminary and could change as more witnesses are questioned.

A number of questions remain unanswered by the authorities: Why did the police take more than an hour to enter the classroom and confront the shooter? What do your body cams show? How did law enforcement officers communicate with each other and with the victims during the attack? What happened when dozens of officers gathered in front of the classroombut stopped from pursuing the shooter?

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Officials declined to provide further information, citing the investigation. Amid the growing silence, attorneys and advocates for the victims’ families are beginning to fear they may never get the answers, authorities will close the case and rely on the exception to Texas’ public information law to authorize the release of more information To block.

“You could make that decision; They shouldn’t have that choice,” said El Paso Democratic Rep. Joe Moody, who has led multiple efforts to change the gap since 2017. “Understanding what our government is doing shouldn’t be that difficult – and right now it is very difficult.”

The legal exception protects information from being released in crimes for which no one has been convicted. The Texas Attorney General’s office has ruled that if a suspect is dead, it applies. Salvador Ramosthe 18-year-old man who police say was responsible for the mass murder Robb Elementary SchoolShe was fatally shot by the police.

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According to Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, the loophole was created in the 1990s to protect those wrongly accused or whose cases were dismissed. “It’s meant to protect the innocent,” Shannon said. But she said that in some cases it is “used and abused in ways that were never intended”.

After the shooting, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican, took to Twitter to express his continued support for closing the gap during the next session of the Texas Legislature, which begins in January 2023.

“The families of the Uvalde victims need honest answers and transparency above all,” Phelan tweeted. He said it would be “absolutely ruthless” to deny information based on the “loopholes of dead suspects”.

Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, said the organization opposes and will “always oppose” a loophole change proposed in previous years that he said would have allowed records of law enforcement officers to be released. including those falsely accused of wrongdoing. He said it would negatively affect officers’ ability to keep working. But Wilkison said he’s willing to participate in future discussions to find a middle ground.

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The public’s focus on the Uvalde shooting was on School District Police Commissioner Pete Arredondo. Steven McCraw, chief of the Texas Department of Public Safety, recently said Arredondo believes the active shooting has turned into a hostage situation and that he made the “wrong decision” not to order officers to breach the classroom faster to confront the shooter .

Arredondo has not responded to inquiries from The Associated Press. In an interview with The Texas Tribune published on Thursday, said He said he did not consider himself responsible for law enforcement’s response and assumed someone else had taken control.

The New York Times reported Thursday that it received documents showing police were awaiting riot gear as they delayed entry to campus, although they noted some victims required medical attention.

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When efforts to change public information loopholes fail and law enforcement agencies continue to refuse to release information, families can contact any federal agency involved. In a case in Mesquite, Texas, the parents of an 18-year-old who died after his arrest received records from federal authorities showing that police had used more violence against their son than they initially thought. The police had refused to release information due to the legal loophole.

“If someone dies in police custody, we want to open all of our records at that point,” the father, Robert Dyer, said when testifying before lawmakers in 2019 for a legal exemption change.

Mayra Guillen said she and her family were hampered by the government loophole trying to get details a case with her sister Vanessa Guillen. Authorities say the 20-year-old soldier was killed at a military base in Texas by her comrade Aaron Robinson, who then disposed of her body.

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Military officials and law enforcement officials said Robinson pulled a gun and shot himself when police tried to contact him. But local police did not allow Vanessa Guillen’s family to view officers’ body camera footage of the confrontation because the suspect had not been convicted, Mayra Guillen said.

“We were honestly just trying to get some closure and see if what was said was true,” Guillen said. “It is only right that these records are, to some extent, public. It’s so hard to say whether there will be justice or not.”

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Find more AP coverage of the Uvalde school shootings: https://apnews.com/hub/uvalde-school-shooting

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/13/texas-shooting-records-could-be-blocked-by-legal-loophole/ Texas shooting records could be blocked by a loophole in the law

Sarah Y. Kim

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