City of Uvalde lawyers up to prevent release of ‘highly embarrassing information’: Report

The City of Uvalde and the Uvalde police department have hired a private law firm to ensure body cam footage, 911 calls, emails, text messages, criminal records, photos and more related to the slaughter of 19 school children and two teachers never see the light of day.

Uvalde’s lawyer, Cynthia Trevino of the private law firm Denton Navarro Rocha Bernal & Zech, penned a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to determine what information the city is required to release to the public — a practice that is standard in the Lone Star State.

Following a series of information requests, Vice’s Motherboard obtained the letter.

According to Vice, “the letter makes clear… that the city and its police department want to be exempted from releasing a wide variety of records in part because it is being sued, in part because some of the records could include ‘highly embarrassing information,’ in part because some of the information is ‘not of legitimate concern to the public,’ in part because the information could reveal ‘methods, techniques, and strategies for preventing and predicting crime,’ in part because some of the information may cause or may ‘regard… emotional/mental distress,’ and in part because its response to the shooting is being investigated by the Texas Rangers, the FBI, and the Uvalde County District Attorney.”

The Texas Department of Public Safety is also eager to suppress information, specifically, body cam footage, on the grounds that it might expose “weaknesses” in Uvalde police response which could then be exploited by criminals.

Uvalde and its police argue that would-be miscreants could decipher “methods, techniques, and strategies for preventing and predicting crime” should “police officer training guides, policy and procedure manuals, shift change schedules, security details, and blueprints of secured facilities” be made public. Furthermore, body cam footage could contain “information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision.” Therefore, the city contends, it should be exempt from releasing them.

Brandon University sociology professor Christopher Schneider studies both police body camera footage and the process of disclosing the footage they capture. According to him, the effort to suppress the large swath of information is suspicious.

“They claim that the compilation of individuals’ criminal history is highly embarrassing information, which is a strange cover,” he said. “The embarrassing information is the inept police response.”

The criminal histories of suspects are released by police without a formal request all the time, Schneider noted.

“They have no problem using information like that against individuals of the public. The information disclosure needs to go both ways, if that’s the case,” he said, adding that any disciplinary or criminal records in the files of Uvalde police, whose response to the shooting has come under a torrent of criticism in the weeks following the shooting, would be highly relevant.

“It’s rather ripe to say any of this is not of legitimate public concern,” Schneider said. “The whole country is trying to figure out how to not allow this to happen again.”

“The case that’s being made contains some particularly asinine stonewalling,” he continued. “It seems like the city is throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, and seeking a ruling to suppress this information from being released.”

In all, 148 public records requests were made of Uvalde on a variety of subjects. The city has lumped them together and is seeking a single legal ruling from Paxton’s office on all of them.

“It appears that they’re conflating all of the information requests as a justification to not release the stuff we should be seeing,” Schneider surmised. “If it’s an officer’s email to his wife, yeah, we don’t need to see this. But the body-worn camera footage is of concern. They’re conflating all of this information together to suppress the legitimate stuff.”



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