Texas

Shooting records in Texas may be blocked by a legal loophole

AUSTIN, Texas – As public pressure intensifies for more information on the deadly shooting at Uvalde School, some are concerned that Texas officials will use a legal loophole to block the issuance of records – even to the families of the victims – once the case is closed.

Following the May 24 shooting at a Texas primary school that killed 19 children and two teachers, law enforcement officials provided little or no information, sometimes withdrawing statements hours after they were made. State police said some accounts are preliminary and could change when more witnesses are questioned.

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

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Authorities declined to give further details, citing an investigation. Amid growing silence, attorneys and advocates for the victim’s families are beginning to fear they may never receive answers, that authorities will close the case and rely on the Texas Public Information Exemption to block the release of any more information.

“They could make that decision; they shouldn’t have that choice, “said Democratic MP Joe Moody of El Paso, who has led several efforts to fix the door since 2017. “Understanding what our government is doing should not be so difficult – but it is very difficult at the moment.

The exception to the law protects information from disclosure in crimes for which no one has been convicted. The Texas Attorney General’s Office has ruled that it applies when a suspect is dead. Salvador Ramos, an 18-year-old man whom police say is responsible for the massacre at Rob’s primary school, was fatally shot dead by police.

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The door was created in the 1990s to protect those wrongfully accused or whose cases have been dismissed, according to Kelly Shannon, executive director of the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation. “It aims to protect the innocent,” Shannon said. But she said that in some cases, “it is being used and abused in a way that was never intended.”

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

“Most of all, the families of Uwalde’s victims need honest answers and transparency,” Phelan tweeted. He said it would be “absolutely unscrupulous” to deny information based on a “door for dead suspects”.

Charlie Wilkinson, executive director of the Texas Combined Law Enforcement Association, said the organization opposes and will “always oppose” an amendment to a loophole proposed in previous years that he said would allow records to be released about employees. to law enforcement agencies, even those falsely accused of wrongdoing. He said it would negatively affect employees’ ability to continue working. But Wilkinson said he would be willing to engage in future discussions in an attempt to find a middle ground.

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The public focus of the Uwalde shooting is on school police chief Pete Aredondo. Stephen McCrow, Texas’s head of public safety, said recently that Aredondo believed the active shooting had become a hostage situation and that he had made the “wrong decision” not to order officers to break up the classroom more quickly. to face the archer. .

Arredondo did not respond to requests for comment from the Associated Press. However, in an interview with The Texas Tribune on Thursday, he said he did not consider himself responsible for law enforcement action and suggested that someone else had taken control.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that it had received documents showing that police were waiting for safety equipment because it delayed entering the campus, even when they realized some victims needed medical attention.

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If efforts to correct the loophole in public information fail and law enforcement continues to refuse to release information, families can turn to all federal agencies involved. In one case in Mesquite, Texas, the parents of an 18-year-old man who died after his arrest received records from federal authorities showing that police used more force against their son than they initially realized. Police refused to provide any information under the law.

“If someone dies in police custody, then we would like to open all our records,” said Father Robert Dyer as he testified before the legislature in 2019 in favor of amending the legal exception.

Myra Guillen said she and her family were in trouble from the doorway in the state when they tried to get details of a case involving her sister Vanessa Guillen. Authorities say the 20-year-old soldier was killed at a military base in Texas by ally Aaron Robinson, who then dumped her body.

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Military and law enforcement officials said Robinson pulled out a gun and shot himself as police tried to contact him. But local police would not allow Vanessa Gilen’s family to see footage from the collision from a police camera, as the suspect has not been convicted, Myra Gilen said.

“Honestly, we were just trying to get it over with and see if it was true,” Guillain said. “It is legal for these recordings to be made public to some extent. It is so difficult to say whether there will be justice or not.

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

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Shooting records in Texas may be blocked by a legal loophole

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