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Uvalde PD Continues Stonewalling, Hires Private Law Firm To Block Release Of School Shooting Recordings

from the thought-law-abiding-people-had-nothing-to-hide? dept

The Uvalde Police Department — recipient of 40% of the city’s budget — botched its response to a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School. Rather than rush to the sound of gunfire, the officers stopped making forward progress once they were adjacent to the gunfire. It took another law enforcement agency (a Border Patrol tactical team) to end the killing, which at that point numbered 19 students and two teachers.

As new, and embarrassing, details continue to leak out, the Uvalde Police Department has tried desperately to stop the steady drip. It has decided to simply refuse to respond to nearly every one of the hundred-plus school shooting-related requests it has received. (The PD is also refusing to cooperate with a federal investigation of the shooting, so it’s not just stonewalling taxpayers.)

And it has benefited from an unexpectedly united front. The Texas Department of Safety has come to the defense of the extremely defensive Uvalde Police Department, claiming any information or documents it might have on hand relating to the shooting response (including body cam footage) cannot be released because it might (and I quote) “enable criminals to anticipate weakness in law enforcement procedures.”

The procedure was the weakness, at least as carried out by the Uvalde police officers. Training tells first responders to sacrifice their own safety to protect others during active shooter situations, but that simply did not happen. The department’s immediate statements portrayed officers as heroes, an illusion the PD couldn’t even manage to sustain for 24 hours.

The Uvalde PD clearly does not want to release any information about its botched shooting response. As Jason Koebler reports for Motherboard, the PD has retained private representation to engage in legal warfare on its behalf, spending the public’s money to keep documents out of their hands.

The City of Uvalde and its police department are working with a private law firm to prevent the release of nearly any record related to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in which 19 children and two teachers died, according to a letter obtained by Motherboard in response to a series of public information requests we made. The public records Uvalde is trying to suppress include body camera footage, photos, 911 calls, emails, text messages, criminal records, and more.

“The City has not voluntarily released any information to a member of the public,” the city’s lawyer, Cynthia Trevino, who works for the private law firm Denton Navarro Rocha Bernal & Zech, wrote in a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. The city wrote the letter asking Paxton for a determination about what information it is required to release to the public, which is standard practice in Texas. Paxton’s office will eventually rule which of the city’s arguments have merit and will determine which, if any, public records it is required to release.

Hiring outside counsel isn’t necessarily unusual when plenty of litigation appears inevitable. What is a bit more unusual is the private law firm’s approach to the public records requests. Rather than present reasons why certain documents and recordings might be exempt from disclosure, it has chosen to treat all requests as one inseparable mass to which any or all possible exemptions might apply.

The city says that it has received 148 separate public records requests (including several from Motherboard), and has lumped all of them together, making a broad legal argument as to why it should not be required to respond to many of them. 

That’s the pitch the law firm is making to state Attorney General Ken Paxton, hoping the AG will take its side and declare most of those 148 requests exempt from release. That may work with the AG but it’s certainly not going to work in court when the inevitable lawsuits over denied requests start flowing in.

But that’s the point. It buys the Uvalde PD more time. It forces requesters to spend their own time and money suing for access to records by battling a private law firm being paid with public money to help the Uvalde PD screw the public.

This raises questions about what might be captured in documents and body cam footage. The concerted effort to prevent any information from being released gives the distinct impression this is a cover-up operation. What it’s covering up is left to the imagination of the general public, which is no closer to obtaining access to the stuff the PD is keeping hidden. Are there falsified reports? Cops caught on camera cowering-in-place? Cops mocking the terrified families waiting outside of the school? Confusion? Chaos? Panic? Law enforcement professionals being far less heroic than they believe themselves to be?

Whatever it is, it will come out eventually. This is the PD delaying the inevitable. And the longer it fights, the more irate the public will be. The PD has been dishonest from the outset. Now, it’s using the public’s own money against them.

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Comments on “Uvalde PD Continues Stonewalling, Hires Private Law Firm To Block Release Of School Shooting Recordings”

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26 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

What it’s covering up is left to the imagination of the general public, which is no closer to obtaining access to the stuff the PD is keeping hidden.

Sounds like they’re covering up the most important question that most reporters might be avoiding: How many kids were shot by the cops?

I know the cops said soon after the shooting that they didn’t shoot anyone but the gunman. But everything the police said about the timeline of police action during the shooting has changed in the following weeks. I’m left to wonder if that specific denial will eventually change.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Few people will try to hide evidence that leaves them looking better

You know the first time I heard that idea by another commentor I thought it was an excessive reach when cowardice was a simpler explanation but the more they stonewall the more I start thinking you/they might be on to something and that the reason they don’t want the videos released isn’t because of what they didn’t do…

Anonymous Coward says:

As new, and embarrassing, details continue to leak out, the Uvalde Police Department has tried desperately to stop the steady drip. It has decided to simply refuse to respond to nearly every one of the hundred-plus school shooting-related requests it has received. (The PD is also refusing to cooperate with a federal investigation of the shooting, so it’s not just stonewalling taxpayers.)

And the next angle tried by the CUPD will be copyright. After all, they’re ignoring perfectly legitimate FOIA requests, so I fully expect them to also ignore the fact that the footage captured by their bodycams is automatically in the Public Domain as a work of a State Government.

David says:

Re:

And the next angle tried by the CUPD will be copyright. After all, they’re ignoring perfectly legitimate FOIA requests, so I fully expect them to also ignore the fact that the footage captured by their bodycams is automatically in the Public Domain as a work of a State Government.

There is a laundry list of excuses here. First, they need model releases from all the persons featured here. Then they didn’t film in a publicly accessible location, so the architect of the building and the creators of any decoration in the building have copyright claims.

Then of course there is the elephant in the room: the entirety of the footage cannot be released for security/personal reasons so they’ll engage a private company for editing the material, and they get editorial copyright claims which only allow using that edited material in very limited circumstances and with individually paid licenses.

Didn’t we have that trick with some commented state law that was declared both the official law of the state as well as copyrighted?

And the whole PACER fiasco is also along those lines.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Actually…

Federal Government works are automatically PD if they’re done by an officer of the government as part of their official duties. That’s why Bernie Sanders’ speech on the floor of the Senate is in the Public Domain but not his individual books.

State and Local Government works, AFAIK, contain no such protection. (If any State- or Local-level attorney can clarify or correct me, I’d really like to hear it!)

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Forget the barn doors, those horses are long gone

And it has benefited from an unexpectedly united front. The Texas Department of Safety has come to the defense of the extremely defensive Uvalde Police Department, claiming any information or documents it might have on hand relating to the shooting response (including body cam footage) cannot be released because it might (and I quote) “enable criminals to anticipate weakness in law enforcement procedures.”

By their actions and inaction during the shooting everyone who knows even the slightest bit about the event already knows the fatal weakness in their ‘procedure’, so the idea that releasing the footage would somehow give criminals extra information to exploit is beyond laughable.

When the weakness in your procedure can be summed up simply as ‘The police are cowards and will prioritize their safety over everything else, even the lives of children‘ releasing camera footage of them sitting on their asses and doing nothing as kids are murdered isn’t going to give anyone more information than they already have other than perhaps exactly how and by who that cowardice manifested.

Pseudonymous Coward says:

The more I think about what happened here, the more I wonder about the counterfactual – the alternate reality where the Uvalde PD actually did their job and moved in promptly to protect the kids.

I can’t help thinking that might have led to even more kids dying in the inevitable hail of badly-aimed bullets.

That’s not to excuse whatever they’re trying to hide for a second, but I do wonder…

Uvalde Cowards says:

Tackling an armed suspect who is focused on shooting children is not rocket science. Any decent person would do it–as we saw some parnts do in that case.

But the real issue is all of the behind the scenes stuff that creates these mass shooters in the first place.

From Columbine, forwards, we see current and former police, informants, and their friends, relatives, and associates surrounding these shooters (and other manufactured terrorists) long before they go on a rampage. That’s what makes them finally snap.

The list where this is true is just too long to publish here, but a few cases:

  • Nikolas Cruz- Parkland, and the retired FBI agents son, David Hogg running narrative by-proxy
  • Columbine shooting had Dwayne Fuselier’s son working with the shooters two years before the even to film a “parody” event.
  • the Michigan n#fakekidnappping plot, where three dirty agents were involved creating the event–and as we saw, typical FBI manufactured terrorism.
  • too many other cases where the trajectory is clearly this exact provocation by LEO’s and their “gangs” in the community

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