Uvalde Hires Private Law Firm to Block School Shooting Public Records

Image: ALLISON DINNER/AFP via Getty Images
Vice News

The City of Uvalde and its police department are working with a private law firm to prevent the release of nearly any record related to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in which 19 children and two teachers died, according to a letter obtained by Motherboard in response to a series of public information requests we made. The public records Uvalde is trying to suppress include body camera footage, photos, 911 calls, emails, text messages, criminal records, and more.

“The City has not voluntarily released any information to a member of the public,” the city’s lawyer, Cynthia Trevino, who works for the private law firm Denton Navarro Rocha Bernal & Zech, wrote in a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. The city wrote the letter asking Paxton for a determination about what information it is required to release to the public, which is standard practice in Texas. Paxton’s office will eventually rule which of the city’s arguments have merit and will determine which, if any, public records it is required to release.

The letter makes clear, however, that the city and its police department want to be exempted from releasing a wide variety of records in part because it is being sued, in part because some of the records could include “highly embarrassing information,” in part because some of the information is “not of legitimate concern to the public,” in part because the information could reveal “methods, techniques, and strategies for preventing and predicting crime,” in part because some of the information may cause or may “regard … emotional/mental distress,” and in part because its response to the shooting is being investigated by the Texas Rangers, the FBI, and the Uvalde County District Attorney.

The letter explains that Uvalde has at least one in-house attorney (whose communications it is trying to prevent from public release), and yet, it is using outside private counsel to deal with a matter of extreme  importance and public interest. Uvalde’s city government and its police department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Motherboard.

The city says that it has received 148 separate public records requests (including several from Motherboard), and has lumped all of them together, making a broad legal argument as to why it should not be required to respond to many of them. Earlier this week, Motherboard reported on a similar letter sent to Paxton by the Texas Department of Public Safety, which wanted to suppress body-camera footage because it could expose “weaknesses” in police response to crimes that criminals could exploit. (The main seeming weakness in the Uvalde response was that police, in violation of standard policy and protocol, refused to risk their lives to protect children.)

For example, the city and its police department argue that it should be exempted from releasing “police officer training guides, policy and procedure manuals, shift change schedules, security details, and blueprints of secured facilities,” because these could be used to decipher “methods, techniques, and strategies for preventing and predicting crime.” The Uvalde Police Department and Texas Department of Public Safety have been pilloried by the press and the public for standing in the hallway while a gunman killed children—against standard protocol—and for preventing parents from entering the building to save their children. The letter also argues that the department should be exempted from releasing body camera footage simply because it could be “information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision.”

It is impossible to say what records, in particular, the city and the police are referring to in many parts of the letter. For example, it says it cannot release an individual’s criminal history because it would be “not of legitimate concern to the public,” because it could be “highly embarrassing,” and because it would violate their common-law right to privacy. But the letter does not talk about who the records would be about, why they wouldn’t be relevant to the public, or why they would be highly embarrassing.

“They claim that the compilation of individuals’ criminal history is highly embarrassing information, which is a strange cover. The embarrassing information is the inept police response,” Christopher Schneider, a professor of sociology at Brandon University who studies police body cameras and the disclosure of footage from them, told Motherboard, noting that suspects’ criminal histories are released by the police all the time without anyone having requested them. “They have no problem using information like that against individuals of the public. The information disclosure needs to go both ways, if that’s the case.” Disciplinary or criminal records for members of the police, for example, would be obviously relevant public information in a case in which the police response has been highly criticized. “It’s rather ripe to say any of this is not of legitimate public concern,” he added. “The whole country is trying to figure out how to not allow this to happen again.”

This is a relatively common sort of argument, but it shows yet again that the deck is stacked against the public disclosure of public records when they are inconvenient or embarrassing to the police.

“The case that’s being made contains some particularly asinine stonewalling,” Schneider said. “It seems like the city is throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, and seeking a ruling to suppress this information from being released.”

Schneider says that lumping together all 148 public records requests, and asking for a legal ruling on everything at once, seems like a tactic to prevent the release of anything and everything.

“It appears that they’re conflating all of the information requests as a justification to not release the stuff we should be seeing. If it’s an officer’s email to his wife, yeah, we don’t need to see this. But the body-worn camera footage is of concern. They’re conflating all of this information together to suppress the legitimate stuff,” he said.

[…]

Via https://www.vice.com/en/article/88q95p/uvalde-contracts-private-law-firm-to-argue-it-doesnt-have-to-release-school-shooting-public-records

4 thoughts on “Uvalde Hires Private Law Firm to Block School Shooting Public Records

  1. That is truly amazing! I wonder why they would not want to release the information that so many seek to review. Florida Sheriff Grady Judd came out and addressed the public with the way they (Florida) have handled these sort of things since the Parkland shooting happened in Florida. They have taken definite steps to see that there are no more school shootings in FL. I was very impressed with the plan that they have. Without having the plan sitting in front of me, I cannot describe it, but there is no advertising that the area is a gun free zone to start with. Putting such signs out front or around a school, is telling these crazy kids that there is nothing to prevent them from coming in and shooting up people and the school.
    Makes a lot of sense to me. If these crazed maniac kids, that the FBI already knows has a few strings hanging loose, and who have been threatening to do exactly what they end up doing, and no one does anything to stop them, is allowed to do what they have threatened to do, I would think that all of those who heard and knew about it prior to the event, should be held accountable.
    Plus, Sheriff Judd stated that there will be no waiting around for a damned hour, while more kids are murdered, that his team would be moving in immediately to shoot the perpetrator “grave yard dead”. Being too scared to move in, for an hour, while kids are calling in pleading for help, is bullshit. No wonder they don’t want to release anything. What kind of people are they? What kind of people are the cops, when kids are being murdered, and they are too scared of stepping into the line of fire, afraid of getting shot, while kids are being murdered?
    If I were the PD out there, I would not want anyone seeing in black and white reports the truth about what happened, and who was it that told the police to stand down? Someone did. Who? And who told them to stop parents from going in and getting their kids? Who is to say that the parents, who could have been armed, would not have put an end to that damned deranged kid themselves? The parents were more brave than the law enforcement people at the scene.
    As long as we allow people like Soros to buy the damned DAs and law enforcement in this country through the megabucks that he pours into the campaigns, we will continue to have useless DAs who let criminals go, and won’t prosecute the likes of BLM and Antifa, but will throw the alleged Jan 6th people into jail for over a year and a half with no proper treatment, and prosecute them for something that the DC Police started by inviting people into the White House.
    Our country is broken. Period.
    The school shooting and other mass shootings, were allowed to happen, when law enforcement knew about it prior to the event. Why? So they could invent these damned red flag laws, in order to take guns from law abiding, tax paying citizens. The only way that they have found to violate and do away with our Second Amendment Rights.
    Now that people can be held indefinitely in prison for being of the wrong political party to the President of the United States, they will be coming after those who are against Biden and his destruction of our country. Looks like Obama has been re-elected. The President that hated America most of all, is running this country, with his buddies Soros and other people that some refer to as the Elite.

    Sorry, looks like I haven’t had the chance to rant lately!

    Like

  2. Pingback: Uvalde Hires Private Law Firm to Block School Shooting Public Records — The Most Revolutionary Act – The BlackRobed Mafia

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