City of Uvalde Hires Private Law Firm to Stop Release of Shooting Information
The city of Uvalde, Texas, to trying to block the release of information about the response to the May school shooting that left 19 children dead.
In response to 148 records requests received, the city has written Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to rule on what must be shared, according to NPR.
“The City has not voluntarily released any information to a member of the public,” Cynthia Trevino, a lawyer for the firm Denton Navarro Rocha Bernal & Zech, wrote in the letter.
The city has hired the private law firm to represent it in the case, NPR reported.
The letter, which NPR posted in full, includes a host of reasons why records should not be released. It said that state law allows the withholding of information in cases where there is no criminal conviction. That material includes “highly embarrassing information,” such as criminal records of individuals in involved in the case, the letter startes.
The letter also argues that the law allows for withholding information related to “methods, techniques, and strategies for preventing and predicting crime,” NPR reported.
Releasing information, the letter said, according to NPR, could cause “emotional/mental distress,” “is not of legitimate concern to the public,” and could subject lead to “a substantial threat of physical harm” against city employees. The letter also said the release of the information could violate the right to privacy of some individuals.
The police response to the shooting has come in for extensive criticism from authorities in Texas and is under investigation by the Department of Justice.
The story has also changed multiple times since the initial reports, creating uncertainty about what actually took place.
Texas has a law on the books that allows police records to remain private in the case of crimes in which no one is convicted, according to KMSH-TV.
The Texas Tribune, an online news outlet, reported Wednesday that it and the nonprofit journalism group Pro Publica have submitted about 70 public information requests that include “911 audio recordings, body and police car camera footage, and communications among local, state and federal agencies.”
“The public wants immediate transparency,” said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, the Texas Tribune reported. “The most enlightened law enforcement agencies understand the importance of being transparent, being open and doing it right away.”
Laura Prather, a First Amendment attorney in Texas, told the Tribune the intent of the law was to prevent the release of records on suspects charged with a crime but not convicted. It was “not to protect law enforcement for their actions in circumstances like this, where the shooter is dead,” she said.
“The public has the right to know what happened that day, and right now they can only act on rumors and conflicting information,” said Prather, who is representing Pro Publica, according to the Tribune.
She said agencies are using the loophole “to thwart the public from getting information that they are rightly entitled to.”
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan has announced the creation of a committee to investigate the shooting and the response, according to the Texas Tribune.
“The fact we still do not have an accurate picture of what exactly happened in Uvalde is an outrage,” Phelan said in a statement, according to the Tribune.
“Every day, we receive new information that conflicts with previous reports, making it not only difficult for authorities to figure out next steps, but for the grieving families of the victims to receive closure.”
The Department of Justice is also investigating the massacre.
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