TEXAS — More than a dozen news organizations have filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Public Safety accusing the agency of unlawfully withholding public records related to the Uvalde school shooting where 19 students and two teachers died.
According to multiple sources, news organizations involved in the lawsuit include CNN, the Texas Tribune, the New York Times, The Washington Post, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News and ProPublica. Local TV and media companies Gannett, Graham Media, Scripps and TEGNA are also listed as plaintiffs.
The lawsuit alleges that the news organizations have filed requests under the Texas Public Information Act to obtain information and records from various authorities, including law enforcement, who responded to the Uvalde school shooting.
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) has refused to release records in response to these requests, according to the news organizations. The Texas Tribune and ProPublica reported filing about 70 records requests.
Records requested and withheld from the news organizations include emails, body camera and other footage, call logs, 911 and other emergency communications, interview notes, forensic and ballistic records and lists of DPS personnel who responded to the tragedy, among other information, ProPublica reported.
The DPS has also provided little information about the actions of the 91 officers who responded to the school.
“In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, and continuing throughout the ensuing two months, DPS has declined to provide any meaningful information in response to the Requests regarding the events of that day — despite the awful reality that some 376 members of law enforcement responded to the tragedy, and hundreds of those were in the school or on school property not going into the unlocked classroom where the gunman continued killing helpless youth,” the lawsuit states.
“At the same time, DPS has offered conflicting accounts regarding the response of law enforcement, the conduct of its officers, the results of its own investigation, and the agency’s justifications for withholding information from the public.”
The Texas Tribune reports that under Texas law records are presumed public unless a government body cites a specific exemption under the Public Information Act that allows information to be withheld. DPS has claimed this exemption stating the records relate to an ongoing investigation. The Texas Tribune and other news organizations argue there is no such investigation, however, given the guilt of the gunman is not in dispute and authorities say the 18-year-old shooter acted alone.
“The Texas Department of Public Safety has offered inconsistent accounts of how law enforcement responded to the Uvalde tragedy, and its lack of transparency has stirred suspicion and frustration in a community that is still struggling with grief and shock,” said Laura Lee Prather, a First Amendment lawyer at Haynes Boone who represents the plaintiffs.
“DPS has refused numerous requests by these news organizations even though it’s clear under Texas law that the public is entitled to have access to these important public records. We ask that the court grant our petition so that the people of Texas can understand the truth about what happened,” Prather added.
Nicole Carroll, editor-in-chief of Gannett’s USA Today, went on CNN last month where she said the coalition between news organizations is necessary because “we need to get to the truth. And we’re fighting for these records so we can get the truth.”
Carroll claimed Texas officials have been “stonewalling” the news media’s attempts to access records and information surrounding the Uvalde shooting.
“We’ve been misled, documents have been withheld,” she said.