HOUSTON — Amid lingering questions about the Robb Elementary School shooting, the Texas Attorney General’s office has blocked the release of much information sought by KHOU 11 and several other news organizations under the state’s open records laws.
Heavy redactions to some of the records that were released rendered them useless.
For instance, the City of Uvalde released a 16-page offense/incident report of the shooting that contained generic information on the first two pages, reading, “On May 24th, 2022 Officers responded to 715 Old Carrizo Road (Robb Elementary School) in Uvalde, TX in reference to a motor vehicle accident/shooting.” The remaining 14 pages of the report were completely blacked out.
“These records tell us essentially nothing about what actually happened that day because of the heavy redactions,” attorney Ryan Pillifant said.
Pillifant’s law firm, Haynes Boone, represents KHOU 11 parent company TEGNA and more than a dozen news outlets that have sued the City of Uvalde, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, the Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Department of Public Safety for the release of public records.
The Attorney General’s ruling addresses 16 requests KHOU 11 Investigates made to the City of Uvalde. It blocked the release of unredacted police body camera footage of the incident, dashcam video, 911 calls and police dispatch recordings on the day of the school shooting.
The ruling stated that “information relating to litigation of a civil or criminal nature” must be withheld, and the release of some of the information at issue would “interfere with the detection, investigation or prosecution of a crime.”
“Our argument is that the shooter is already deceased and can’t be criminally prosecuted, so the vast majority of these records could be released without impacting any investigation,” Pillifant said.
He added that even with the potential for criminal prosecution of some officers who responded to the scene, the release of records would not impact the investigation. As for the so-called litigation exemption, Pillifant said that no litigation was anticipated at the time the public records request were submitted, so the exemption should not apply.
“We think it’s outrageous that the AG continues to allow the city (of Uvalde) to withhold these records from the public,” Pillifant said.
The few records that were released and not heavily redacted did provide some nuggets of new information. A Uvalde Police Department call sheet report revealed at 12:58 p.m. the day of the shooting, the shooter’s uncle called police dispatch identifying his nephew as the shooter. A minute later, the uncle called back and told dispatchers there had been “no change in (the shooter’s) behavior the past couple of days.”
Three days after the massacre, records also showed that gunman’s mother went to his grandmother’s house to retrieve her son’s property, but she was issued a criminal trespass warning and told to leave the location.
Pillifant said the City of Uvalde has a couple of weeks to respond to the media coalition lawsuit and ultimately a judge will decide what records the public should and should not see.
The Attorney General’s office has yet to rule on records requests made to other agencies.