Evidence of Excrement Remains Elusive

Requests for more information about the alleged discovery by Capitol law enforcement of visitors toting feces and urine produced little new evidence that could confirm or refute the Texas Department of Public Safety's reports that protesters brought the items to the Senate gallery in preparation for the contentious abortion debate on July 12.  

Almost three weeks after the Senate vote on House Bill 2, debate continues over whether visitors to the Capitol attempted to bring excrement inside the gallery. The Texas Tribune, under Texas public information laws, requested documentation of the alleged urine and feces from the DPS, the governor's office and the lieutenant governor's office. While the offices of both the governor and lieutenant governor turned over a small number of related documents, the DPS has declined to release communications about the suspected excrement.

The DPS asked the attorney general to allow the agency to keep its documents secret, arguing the communications are exempt from state open records law. Tom Vinger, a DPS spokesman, said the agency had no comment beyond the referral to the attorney general's office.

A request to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's office revealed two text message exchanges about suspected excrement between Dewhurst’s chief of staff, Blaine Brunson, and two DPS employees.

In the first exchange, DPS Commander Joe Ortiz texted Brunson, saying, “Bottles of feces and urine found.” In the second, Lt. Bradley Weatherford said troopers had removed “a can of spray paint and a bottle of urine” from one individual entering the gallery.

The exchanges do not indicate how DPS determined that there were 18 containers of suspected feces and one of suspected urine, the numbers reported in a press release by the department’s public information office on July 12.

Ortiz directed a request for an interview to the DPS public information office, and Weatherford did not respond to multiple phone calls seeking comment.

In a July 19 interview with a local Tea Party leader, Dewhurst said that he saw DPS officers “smelling” bottles of urine and that he saw bags of feces that officers had set aside.

Travis Considine, a spokesman for Dewhurst, said the lieutenant governor in fact did not see any excrement but rather saw trash bags that officers told him contained urine and feces. He said that statement did not contradict Dewhurst’s had previous remarks.

“That’s a silly little thing,” he said. Considine said any knowledge Dewhurst's office had of the suspected excrement came from DPS. “We got the DPS press release, and we take DPS at their word,” he said.

Public information requests to Gov. Rick Perry's office turned up nothing that would indicate knowledge of any alleged feces or urine at the Capitol, though the office did receive some inquiries about tampons, which were prohibited inside the gallery for a brief period that day.

"Can you please explain for me what is actually happening and if women's 'supplies' are being confiscated. What is the State of Texas doing to address their hygiene needs during their capitol visit?" one email read.

Another said, "You have nothing better to do with my tax money that [sic] frisk women for tampons?!"

None of the more than 20 officers interviewed by the Tribune on July 12 at the Capitol were able to confirm seeing material that resembled feces or urine.

In the weeks that have followed, neither DPS nor any other branch of state government has produced evidence supporting the claims that visitors brought urine and feces to the Capitol.

Some activists and lawmakers have suggested the reports were fabricated as an attempt to discredit activists who had come to protest the abortion restrictions bill.

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, sent DPS a letter on July 15 requesting more details about the alleged feces and urine. Steven McCraw, the director of DPS, sent a letter in reply, addressing her specific request for documentation by saying any suspicious items were not confiscated by officers but rather thrown away if people wished to enter the Senate gallery.

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

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