Dewhurst Discusses What He Saw at DPS Screening Spot

DPS officers confer in the galley at the start of the Senate second called special session on July 1, 2013.
DPS officers confer in the galley at the start of the Senate second called special session on July 1, 2013.

Updated, July 25, 6:30 p.m.:

A week after saying in an interview that he saw bottles of urine and bags of feces at a DPS screening station ahead of a Senate debate on an abortion bill, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Thursday that he wasn’t close enough to see what was in the containers but was told what was in them, the Houston Chronicle reported Thursday.

Dewhurst told Tea Party officials last week that he saw bottles of urine and bags of feces outside the Senate on July 12. In the Chronicle report, he said Thursday that he was not close enough to see but believed DPS officers when they told him the containers held excrement.

Requests for comment from Dewhurst's press office were not immediately returned.

No DPS officers interviewed by The Texas Tribune during the debate could confirm seeing containers of urine or feces, and several said the interview was their first time hearing of the excrement.

 

A July 12 DPS release said that visitors to the Senate gallery attempted to bring jars of feces and urine inside during that day's debate. The release didn't mention bottles or bags.

Dewhurst also told the Chronicle he saw the containers on the ground floor of the Capitol, near the east entrance of the Capitol. In a letter to state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, DPS director Steve McCraw said jars of suspected feces and urine were found outside the Senate gallery, which is on the third floor of the building.

Updated, July 22, 5:18 p.m.:

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said in an interview with a Waco Tea Party official that he saw bottles of urine and bags of feces at a Capitol screening spot ahead of a debate on an omnibus abortion bill, the Texas Observer reported Friday.

The Observer reported that Dewhurst said in the interview that he saw Department of Public Safety personnel smelling bottles containing urine and that he saw officers setting aside bags of feces to throw away.

A July 12 DPS release said that visitors to the Senate gallery attempted to bring jars of feces and urine inside during that day's debate. The release didn't mention bottles or bags.

Dewhurst's office has not responded to calls requesting comment. 

In a July 16 letter to state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said that some visitors to the Senate gallery did attempt to bring jars of feces and urine inside during Friday's debate on an omnibus abortion bill.

 

McCraw’s letter is a response to one that Howard sent Monday, in which she asked, among other things, for documentation of the actions. In response to that specific query, McCraw says that suspicious items were not confiscated and that people could store them outside the gallery or throw them in trash bags.

DPS did not take the names of anyone caught trying to bring feces, urine or other forbidden items inside the gallery, the letter reads, because "no crime had been committed, and it would be unreasonable to document names of visitors based on what they might or might not do."

DPS officers interviewed by The Texas Tribune on Friday said they had not seen any feces or urine themselves, with several saying the interview was the first time they had heard of people trying to bring either item inside the gallery.

McCraw added that while thousands of residents lawfully participated in the hearing, “there were some, albeit a small number, who came to our Capitol to engage in criminal activity, and our goal, was to prevent them from doing so.”

Howard said she was disappointed by McCraw's letter. "There's no information to explain why they suspected that" jars might contain feces or urine, she said.

"It appears to some of us that this is a statement that doesn't have anything to back it up," she added. "We would like to see if it can be backed up, and so far that information hasn't been produced."

McCraw’s letter, which was first reported by KVUE-TV, is attached.

Updated, July 15, 3:15 p.m.:

Attempting to sort out a dispute over items banned from the Senate gallery last week, Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, said Monday that "nobody has a reason to make up a story about this."

The Texas Department of Public Safety issued a news release Friday on items kept out of the Senate chamber, saying officers had discovered more than a dozen jars containing "suspected" feces and urine at the Capitol ahead of the Senate's debate on abortion restrictions.

Eltife said that DPS would not be able to show any jars because it did not keep any prohibited items as evidence. Officers simply gave visitors the choice to throw away their goods and come in or to take them away and leave, he said. No arrests were made, and no jars were confiscated.

On Friday, DPS officers outside the Senate gallery and at each entrance to the Capitol told The Texas Tribune they had not seen or found jars containing feces or urine, and multiple officers throughout the Capitol said they had not heard of any jars being found until a reporter mentioned it.

Eltife said DPS decided to search visitors' bags Friday after reading "on the blogosphere" that some might bring objects to throw in the gallery. Eltife stressed that those groups were "third-party groups" as opposed to either abortion opponents or abortion rights activists.  

Also Monday, state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, sent a letter to DPS Director Steven McCraw seeking more details regarding the discovery of the jars. 

"I am troubled that inaccurately distributed information may unfairly and unfavorably portray the thousands of citizens who legitimately and lawfully exercised their right of democratic participation — particularly since no evidence has been shown to substantiate the allegations related to these 'suspicious jars,'" the letter reads.

The Tribune has also requested documents from DPS related to Friday's discovery. 

Asked about Friday's temporary ban on feminine hygiene products for people entering the Senate, Eltife said the action was prompted by one woman attempting to bring in about 75 feminine hygiene products, which was "obviously more than you would carry in the gallery."

Eltife did not know why the prohibition on tampons and pads continued beyond that individual case. He added that when senators learned about the ban, they spoke to DPS and got it lifted. 

Original story, July 12:

The Texas Department of Public Safety said Friday that officers had discovered more than a dozen jars containing "suspected" feces and urine at the Texas Capitol, the site of an intense debate among state senators over abortion restrictions.

In a press release, the agency offered scant details about the seizures and did not say where the items were taken or what happened to them, prompting abortion rights activists to express doubts about the official account.

The department said the items were found after the agency received information that protesters had planned to use a “variety of items or props to disrupt legislative proceedings at the Texas Capitol.”

“During these inspections, DPS officers have thus far discovered one jar suspected to contain urine, 18 jars suspected to contain feces, and three bottles suspected to contain paint,” the news release said. “All of these items — as well as significant quantities of feminine hygiene products, glitter and confetti possessed by individuals — were required to be discarded; otherwise those individuals were denied entry into the gallery.”

DPS officers outside the Senate gallery and at each entrance to the Capitol told The Texas Tribune they had not seen or found jars containing feces or urine, and multiple officers throughout the Capitol said they had not heard of any jars being found until a reporter mentioned it. Several officers also said they had not heard anything on the DPS radio system about jars of any excrement.

On social media and in interviews, abortion rights protesters questioned the report, calling it an attempt by DPS to bolster Republican credibility during a contentious debate that has drawn national attention.

The office of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst referred questions about the seizure back to the DPS. The agency’s press office pointed to the news release and said it would not elaborate beyond that.

Sandie Haverlah, an Austin-based abortion rights activist, cast doubt on the assertion by the agency.

“There are hundreds of people out there posting everything they see on Twitter and Facebook," she said. "Certainly, out of 18 or 19 jars of this, a person would have put this out there. Even if you’re wearing a blue shirt, wouldn’t you post it? No one has said a word.”

Here's the text of the DPS press release:

AUSTIN – The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) today received information that individuals planned to use a variety of items or props to disrupt legislative proceedings at the Texas Capitol.

Therefore for safety purposes, DPS recommended to the Texas Senate that all bags be inspected prior to allowing individuals to enter the Senate gallery, which the Texas Senate authorized.

During these inspections, DPS officers have thus far discovered one jar suspected to contain urine, 18 jars suspected to contain feces, and three bottles suspected to contain paint. All of these items – as well as significant quantities of feminine hygiene products, glitter and confetti possessed by individuals – were required to be discarded; otherwise those individuals were denied entry into the gallery.

In the interest of the safety and security of Texas legislators and the general public, these inspections will continue until the conclusion of Senate business.

Jay Root contributed reporting.

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