‘Dead suspect’ loophole in state law could prevent release of information in Uvalde school shooting

The legislative loophole has been in place since 1997, despite multiple attempts to get rid of it.

Battle to close the “dead suspect loophole” in the wake of the Uvalde shooting

SAN ANTONIO – Three weeks have passed since the school shooting in Uvalde, and there are concerns that a loophole in Texas law that could prevent information from being released as questions about what happened inside Robb Elementary remain.

“Government information is open to the public, right? It belongs to us. That’s the default setting, and we have certain exceptions to that rule,” State Rep. Joe Moody said.

Moody, who represents El Paso, said one of the exceptions is a 1997 amendment under the Texas Public Records Act. It’s now commonly referred to as the “dead suspect loophole.”

The loophole was created to protect people who were unlawfully or wrongly accused, according to Jon Taylor, political science and geography chair at UTSA.

“What’s happened is that police responses to shootings or to activities, they can actually use the law to shield themselves from basically releasing information,” Taylor said.

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It’s speculated this could come into play in the case involving the Robb Elementary School shooting that left 21 dead, especially with the ever-changing storyline presented by law enforcement agencies.

“When the governor is saying he’s been what he felt was lied to, that tells you that there is a crying need for eliminating this loophole in Texas law,” Taylor said.

The fight to close that loophole has been a five-year battle for Moody, but he says no measures have gone far enough.

“It’s an important public policy that we need to change. It’s being abused. It’s not the spirit of the law that is not being complied with,” Moody said.

Not everyone feels the same. Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas, or CLEAT, said their organization “will always be opposed” to closing the loophole, according to an Associated Press article. They offered no further comment when KSAT 12 asked on Tuesday.

In 2019, Gov. Greg Abbott refused to sign the Texas Information Act without the loophole.

Moody says he knows the lingering pain that can come from unanswered questions. His community in El Paso felt the wrath of a mass shooting on Aug. 3, 2019, when 23 people were killed inside a Walmart.

“Being able to understand what happened is helpful. It gives you some sense of closure,” Moody said.

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan tweeted on June 1 that he supports closing the loophole and wants legislation passed next year.

With Governor Abbott now saying he feels lied to by law enforcement during the Uvalde shooting, it’ll be something to watch going into the next legislative session.

Click here to view KSAT’s latest coverage on the Robb Elementary School shooting.

About the Authors:

Leigh Waldman is a news reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.

Gavin Nesbitt is a photojournalist and video editor who joined KSAT in September 2021. He has traveled across the great state of Texas to film, conduct interviews and edit many major news stories, including the White Settlement church shooting, Hurricane Hanna, 2020 presidential campaigns, Texas border coverage and the Spurs.