AUSTIN – KSAT 12 and more than a dozen media organizations on Monday filed a lawsuit in state district court in Austin asking a judge to order the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to release records regarding the law enforcement response to the May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
An 18-year-old gunman shot and killed 19 students and two teachers before he was fatally shot by police in what was the deadliest school shooting in Texas history.
Media organizations, including local, state and national newsrooms, filed requests under the Texas Public Information Act for records related to the state and local law enforcement response to the shooting. However, DPS officials refused to release them, citing a pending investigation exemption often controversially used by law enforcement agencies.
The records include emails, unredacted body-worn camera and other video footage, call logs, 911 records and other emergency communications, interview notes, forensic and ballistic records, and lists of DPS personnel who responded to the tragedy.
The refusal to release records has taken place even as the agency selectively disclosed some information through public testimony, third-party analyses, and news reports.
The news outlets, including KSAT, argue that there is no ongoing criminal investigation since the deceased shooter, Salvador Ramos Jr., acted alone.
The local prosecutor, Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee, has acknowledged that she is not conducting a criminal investigation.
“In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, and continuing throughout the ensuing two months, DPS has declined to provide any meaningful information in response to the Requests regarding the events of that day — despite the unfathomable reality that some 376 members of law enforcement responded to the tragedy, and hundreds of those were in the school or on school property not going into the unlocked classroom where the gunman continued killing helpless youth,” the suit states. “At the same time, DPS has offered conflicting accounts regarding the response of law enforcement, the conduct of its officers, the results of its own investigation, and the agency’s justifications for withholding information from the public.”
DPS has said little about the actions of 91 of its officers who responded to the shooting.
DPS had the second highest number of personnel respond to the shooting and its immediate aftermath, trailing only the US Border Patrol with 149 agents.
DPS officials last month launched an internal review of how its personnel responded to the shooting. The state law enforcement agency announced the review July 18, a day after a House Investigative Committee report detailed widespread law enforcement failures and how the school’s safety protocols fell short.
“The Texas Department of Public Safety has offered inconsistent accounts of how law enforcement responded to the Uvalde tragedy, and its lack of transparency has stirred suspicion and frustration in a community that is still struggling with grief and shock,” said Laura Lee Prather, a First Amendment lawyer at Haynes Boone who represents the plaintiffs. “DPS has refused numerous requests by these news organizations even though it’s clear under Texas law that the public is entitled to have access to these important public records. We ask that the court grant our petition so that the people of Texas can understand the truth about what happened.”
The media organizations include: The Texas Tribune, ABC News; CBS News; CNN; Dow Jones & Co.; Gannett; Graham Media Group, Houston; Graham Media Group, San Antonio; NBC News; The New York Times Company; Pro Publica, Inc.; Scripps Media; TEGNA; and The Washington Post.