This story is part of a KXAN series of reports called “Stop Mass Shootings,” providing context and exploring solutions surrounding gun violence in the wake of the deadly Uvalde school shooting. We want our reports to be a resource for Texans, as well as for lawmakers who are convening a month after the events in Uvalde to discuss how the state should move forward. Explore all “Stop Mass Shootings” stories by clicking here.
AUSTIN (KXAN) – The Texas state senator who represents Uvalde is suing the Texas Department of Public Safety for denying him access to public records related to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School that killed 19 students and two teachers.
“This is the largest failure of law enforcement in the state of Texas,” said Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio), in an interview with KXAN.
Gutierrez’s lawsuit comes after several of his open records requests that rejected and, at least one, ignored by DPS in violation of state law, he said. The records he’s seeking — including GPS and body camera video — would help shine light on what went wrong, he said, referring to law enforcement’s response that day as a “systemic failure.”
“Ninety-one DPS troopers were on site,” said Gutierrez. “I need to know why they didn’t act themselves. And, we’ll never know that until they drop their open records exceptions and we get to the truth of the matter.”
On Tuesday, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin also spoke of litigation.
“Maybe the headline’s going to be, ‘City of Uvalde sues the DPS; City of Uvalde sues the district attorney for information.,'” McLaughlin said to applause. “Because we damn sure ain’t getting it any other way.”
In an open-letter, dated June 8, District Attorney for Uvalde County Christina Busbee called for “any records” to be “withheld,” citing the ongoing FBI and Texas Rangers investigations.
“Any release of records to that incident at this time would interfere with said ongoing investigation,” she wrote, “and would impede a thorough and complete investigation. Therefore, I request that any records or reports be withheld under Section 552.108(a)(1) of the Texas Government Code.”
Gutierrez, along with transparency advocates, believe the “ongoing investigation” exemption is being used improperly to block the release of records. So far, no criminal charges have been filed and the only suspect is dead.
“We deserve to know the truth so this never happens again in any other school,” said Gutierrez. “
Jim Hemphill, a First Amendment attorney in Austin, agrees.
“I think it’s information the public should have,” said Hemphill, who applauded the lawsuit.
Hemphill, who is on the board of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said the public needs more transparency not less.
“A situation like this is when the public’s right to know is at its peak,” said Hemphill. “The public has not just an interest, but an absolute right, to know what went on.”
“To date, they have been met with lies, misstatements, and shifts of blame,” Gutierrez said “The State of Texas failed these families, and those families deserve to know the complete, unalterable truth about what happened that day. This is a suit to demand just that.”
KXAN has reached out to Texas DPS for a response but did not hear back.
Law enforcement, including DPS Director Steven McCraw, have provided conflicting and false accounts of what happened during the shooting. Gov. Greg Abbott said he was “livid” after being “misled” on information provided by officials in the days following the shooting.
The day after the shooting, Abbott said a Uvalde CISD officer confronted the gunman before he walked into Robb Elementary. A spokesperson for Texas DPS said that was untrue the following day.
“Yes, I was misled. I am livid about what happened,” Abbott said during a news conference three days after the shooting. “I was on this very stage, and I was telling the public what had been told to me. I wrote down hand notes in detail what everybody in that room told me. The information I was given turned out, in part, to be inaccurate, and I’m absolutely livid about that. My expectation is that the law enforcement leaders that are leading the investigation… they get to the bottom of every fact with absolute certainty.”
In an open records request to McCraw on May 31, Gutierrez requested the ballistics report on the shooting, any policy manuals or documents that show how DPS and local law enforcement are supposed to work together during active shooter or hostage situations, and any documents or reports that detail how police and DPS responded to Robb Elementary.
Gutierrez also requested information showing the exact times that each law enforcement officer, from the local to the federal level, arrived on the scene. He also asked McCraw for clarification on who was in “operational control at every step of the law enforcement response in Uvalde.”
His lawsuit notes, by law, DPS had 10 business days to either respond to the request or seek a decision from the attorney general on whether the release of documents could be denied, but that the agency did neither.
Gutierrez claims that DPS violated Chapter 552 of the Texas Government Code by failing to provide the documents.
“The community of Uvalde deserves answers now so that we can begin to heal and make sure a massacre like this never happens again,” Gutierrez said.
Last week, KXAN received a copy of a letter sent to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton from a law firm representing the city of Uvalde. The letter was regarding the distribution of information from open records requests made surrounding the May 24 mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
In the letter, the law firm, Denton Navarro Rocha Bernal & Zech, P.C., requested Paxton decide if the requested information is exempt from disclosure under the Public Information Act.
The law firm said the city of Uvalde claimed, “the requested information is not information that is collected, assembled or maintained under a law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by a governmental body or for a governmental body or is excepted from disclosure.”
KXAN requested the 911 recordings and computer-aided dispatch (CAD) report, as well as 911 transcriptions of calls made surrounding the shooting.