The Texas Department of Public Safety has appealed a judge’s ruling to release records from the Uvalde school shooting.
The filing of the appeal on Friday means that the records could take months, possibly years, from being released.
A state district court judge in Austin last week ruled that DPS must release records regarding the law enforcement response to the May 24, 2022, massacre at Robb Elementary School that claimed the lives of 19 students and two teachers. KSAT 12 News and more than a dozen media organizations filed a lawsuit on Aug. 1, 2022, asking a judge to order the release of the records.
The requests for information were filed under the Texas Public Information Act by local, state, and national newsrooms. However, DPS officials refused to release them, citing a pending investigation exemption.
“I don’t know of any situation that has been as big a cover-up as this one in Texas history,” attorney Laura Prather said.
Prather, chair of the media practice group at Haynes Boone, held no punches in calling the fight between DPS and media organizations an unprecedented cover-up.
“What we’re fighting for is the information about what happened that day, which we have been told by DPS, is 2.8TB of data,” Prather said.
She says that is the equivalent of 700 two-hour movies, almost a million photos.
“All of that information has been kept from you, from me, from the families in Uvalde for more than a year and a half. It needs to become public,” she said.
Records we’re asking for include emails, unredacted body-worn cameras 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.
Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell tried to intervene on behalf of DPS in the ongoing lawsuit, but the judge blocked her from doing so in September.
The media organizations include the following:
- The Texas Tribune
- ABC News
- CBS News
- Dow Jones & Co.
- Graham Media Group, Houston
- Graham Media Group, San Antonio
- NBC News
- The New York Times Company
- Pro Publica, Inc.
- Scripps Media
- The Washington Post
After initially praising the law enforcement response to the shooting at Robb Elementary, Gov. Greg Abbott changed his narrative two days later. At that time, Abbott said he was “misled.”
On the same day, on May 27, 2022, DPS director Colonel Steve McCraw said the decisions made in the first moments of that shooting were wrong.
The next month, on June 21, 2022, McCraw testified at a Texas Senate hearing at the state capitol and called the law enforcement response to the Robb tragedy an “abject failure.”
According to the Texas House of Representatives Investigative Committee on the Robb Elementary Shooting report released in July 2022, DPS had 91 of its officers respond to the shooting.
Months later in September, McCraw was confronted by CNN. At that time, McCraw said if there was any wrongdoing by members of DPS he would step down.
As of February of this year, two DPS officers have been let go for their roles in the response but McCraw has not stepped down.
On Feb. 9, 2023, McCraw testified in front of a Texas Senate committee. He said the investigation was done in December of 2022 and had been turned over to the Uvalde County district attorney.
Previously, McCraw had said the investigative material would be released publicly when it was completed. A year later, that still has not happened.
“There seems to be a lot of hypocrisy that has come out from Colonel McCraw, specifically,” KSAT Investigates reporter Leigh Waldman said.
“I think that is exactly right,” Prather said.
With the appeal DPS has now filed blocking the court-ordered release of information, we could be waiting for much longer to get a clear picture of what happened on May 24, 2022.
“That appeal process could take years. And those families would be without any closure and without any retribution for what happened that day,” Prather said.
There’s more at risk than just transparency and clarity when it comes to the Department of Public Safety’s appeal filed in a lawsuit seeking materials related to its response to the Robb shooting.
“What people need to understand is not only do the families not get closure without knowing what happened that day, but they also have claims that are at stake here,” Prather said.
Families of the victims and some of the survivors have filed what’s called a 1983 claim.
“That’s a claim that is brought against a governmental body, employees, agencies who didn’t act in a manner in which they were supposed to act,” Prather said.
According to the University of Minnesota Law School, “Section 1983 provides an individual the right to sue state government employees and others acting “under color of state law” for civil rights violations. Section 1983 does not provide civil rights; it is a means to enforce civil rights that already exist.”
Those claims have a statute of limitations of two years, which is five months from now.
Prather said without the material we’re seeking, those claims don’t stand a chance.
“If all of the evidence that supports their claims is kept under wraps, those families will not have the evidence they need due to DPS choosing to appeal,” she said
Over the past year and a half since the shooting, material related to the failed law enforcement response has been leaked to the media.
Prather said that may not meet the burden of proof the families need for their claims.
“Leaked evidence is not authenticated evidence,” she explained.
The appeal filed by DPS Friday would keep the official release of information wrapped up in court proceedings for months or even years.
“What is behind the investigation that you are so concerned about keeping private?” Prather asked.
Looking at it from a wider lens, Prather said these attempts continue what she calls one of the worst cover-ups in Texas history is not only affecting the families most impacted but the public’s faith in law enforcement as a whole.
“Doesn’t law enforcement want us to trust them? And in order for us to trust them in the future, we need to know what happened that day,” she said.
KSAT 12 News requested comment on this story from the Texas Department of Public Safety, as well as Governor Greg Abbott. Neither has given a response.