Access to Texas shooting records may be blocked by a legal loophole

AUSTIN Texas aEUR </p> Law enforcement officials have not provided much or contradicting information since the shooting at a Texas elementary school on May 24, which left two teachers and 19 children dead.

14 June 2022 Tuesday 02:08
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Access to Texas shooting records may be blocked by a legal loophole


Law enforcement officials have not provided much or contradicting information since the shooting at a Texas elementary school on May 24, which left two teachers and 19 children dead. Sometimes, they withdraw statements even hours after making them. Some accounts by the state police were considered preliminary and could change as more witnesses are interviewed.

Authorities still have many questions unanswered. For example, why did it take police more than an hour for them to enter the classroom and confront this gunman? What does their body camera show? What was the communication between the officers and the victims of the attack? What was the result of dozens upon dozens of officers gathering outside the classroom and refusing to pursue the shooter?

Officials declined to provide more information citing the ongoing investigation. A letter was received by The Associated Press, other media outlets, from a law firm representing The City of Uvalde asking for Texas attorney general to rule on records requests in relation to the shooting. They cited 52 legal areas aEUR", including the section containing loophole aEUR", that they believe would exempt records from release.

Lawyers and advocates for victims' families fear that they will never be able to get answers. They also fear that the authorities will close the case.

"They could have made that decision, they shouldn't be forced to," stated Joe Moody, a Democratic state Representative from El Paso who has been leading several efforts to close the loophole since 2017. "Understanding the actions of our government should not be difficult aEUR," and it is right now.

This law's exception prevents information being released about crimes that no one has been convicted of. It applies to suspects who are dead, according to the Texas Attorney General's Office. Police shot Salvador Ramos (18), the suspect in the Robb Elementary School massacre.

According to Kelley Shannon (executive director of Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas), the loophole was created in 1990 to protect wrongfully accused persons or cases that were dismissed. Shannon stated that the loophole was intended to protect innocent people. Shannon said, however, that sometimes it is being misused and used in ways that were not intended.

After the shooting, Texas House of Representatives Speaker Dade Pahelan (a Republican) took to Twitter to express his support for closing the loophole in the Texas Legislature's next session which starts in January 2023.

Phelan tweeted, "More than any, the families of Uvalde victims require honest answers and transparency." Phelan stated that it would be "absolutely absurd" to deny information based upon the "dead suspect loophole".

Charley Wilkison is the executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas. He stated that the organization opposed and would always be opposed to a loophole amend that was proposed in prior years. This amendment, he claimed, would have allowed records pertaining to law enforcers to be released, even if they were wrongfully accused. He stated that this would adversely affect officers' ability and motivation to work. Wilkison stated that he was open to participating in future discussions to try to find a compromise.

Pete Arredondo, chief of school district police, has been the focus of attention in the Uvalde shooting. Steven McCraw, the Texas Department of Public Safety's head, stated that Arredondo believed that the active shooting had become a hostage situation and that he made the wrong decision to not allow officers to enter the classroom faster to confront the gunman.

The Associated Press has not reached out to Arredondo for comment. He said that he didn't consider himself to be in charge of law enforcement and assumed that someone else was.

The New York Times reported Thursday, that documents proving police delayed entry to campus due to lack of protective equipment were obtained by it.

Families can turn to federal agencies if law enforcement refuses to release information or if efforts to amend the public-information loophole are unsuccessful. Federal authorities provided records showing that the police used greater force against the 18-year old son of Mesquite, Texas. The police refused to give any information due to the legal loophole.

Robert Dyer, the father, testified in support of amending the legal exemption in 2019 before the legislature.

Mayra Guillen claimed that her family was obstructed by the state loophole when trying to obtain details about a case involving Vanessa Guillen. According to authorities, the victim was 20 years old and killed by Aaron Robinson at a Texas military base. Robinson then took her body.

According to military officials and law enforcement, Robinson pulled out a gun and shot herself while police tried to contact him. Mayra Guillen stated that Vanessa Guillen's family couldn't view the body camera footage from the encounter because the suspect wasn't convicted.

Guillen stated that they were simply trying to get closure and find out if the information being shared was accurate. These records should be made public in some way. It's difficult to know if justice will be served.



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