House Speaker Dade Phelan announces legislative committee to investigate Uvalde shooting

State Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, will lead the investigative committee into the Uvalde shooting. (Juan Figueroa/The Texas Tribune, Juan Figueroa/The Texas Tribune)

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Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan on Friday announced the creation of a legislative committee to investigate the Uvalde shooting.

“The fact we still do not have an accurate picture of what exactly happened in Uvalde is an outrage,” the Beaumont Republican said in a statement announcing the committee. “Every day, we receive new information that conflicts with previous reports, making it not only difficult for authorities to figure out next steps, but for the grieving families of the victims to receive closure. I established this investigative committee for the dedicated purpose of gathering as much information and evidence as possible to help inform the House’s response to this tragedy and deliver desperately needed answers to the people of Uvalde and the State of Texas.”

The three-person investigative committee will have subpoena power for its investigation and will be led by state Rep. Dustin Burrows, a Lubbock Republican who is an attorney. El Paso Democrat Joe Moody, a former prosecutor, will serve as the committee’s vice chair. Former Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, who recently lost a bid to become the Republican nominee for attorney general, will also be a member of the panel.

Phelan said Burrows, Moody and Guzman have “decades of experience in civil and criminal litigation matters” that make them well-equipped to conduct the committee’s investigations.

The speaker’s latest announcement comes days after he voiced his support for ending the “dead suspect loophole” in Texas public records laws, which could impede the public’s ability to get answers about the police response to the shooting. Law enforcement agencies often use a statute in the law to shield from public release records related to incidents that don’t lead to a conviction, including in cases in which the suspect dies before a chance to prosecute.

“It’s time we pass legislation to end the dead suspect loophole for good in 2023,” he said on social media on Wednesday.

In addition, Phelan has asked representatives from the areas of each of the major mass shootings that have rocked the state in recent years to join the Select Committee on Youth Health and Safety, which will be looking into Gov. Greg Abbott’s call for a response to the Uvalde shooting along with the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee. Those committees will look into school safety, mental health, social media’s role in mass violence events, police training and firearm safety.

The members appointed to the youth health and safety committee are: Republicans Greg Bonnen, Brooks Landgraf, John Kuempel and Charlie Geren, who represent Santa Fe, Odessa, Sutherland Springs and White Settlement, respectively; Democrats Mary González and Tracy King represent El Paso and Uvalde.

A Senate committee set up to respond to the Uvalde shooting earlier this week was criticized for excluding representatives from El Paso, Santa Fe and Uvalde. State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, said his exclusion was a “slap in the face” to the community.

Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, will also serve on the youth health and safety committee. Darby previously led the House Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety, which was set up after the 2019 mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa. That committee was charged with issuing a report with legislative recommendations based on its findings. But the committee and a similar one in the Senate stopped meetings after the onset of COVID-19 and never issued their reports.

Phelan said the investigative committee will have power of depositions and will be allowed to initiate discovery. That power could play a key role as initial statements by law enforcement about the shooting have proven inaccurate and state officials have said the police chief responding to the shooting has stopped responding to Texas Rangers investigating the incident. Pete Arredondo, the police chief for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District who led the response, has contradicted those statements, saying he is in communication with authorities.

Correction, June 3, 2022: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that nine people were members of a House committee investigating the Uvalde shooting. There are only three. Another seven lawmakers have been named to a House Select Committee on Youth Health and Safety.