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Nine Democratic members of the U.S. House from Texas on Tuesday called on Attorney General Ken Paxton to order the release of government records related to the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde that local officials are attempting to withhold.
In a letter, the group said that authorizing the release of records would help the families of victims heal by revealing the full truth about what happened at Robb Elementary School that day. They also said disclosure was important because officials have repeatedly changed their story about law enforcement’s response to the shooting.
“A first step in restoring trust in law enforcement and healing requires transparency from state and local officials,” the letter states. “You have a choice: shine a light on what went wrong to help Uvalde heal or be part of the cover up.”
It is signed by U.S. Reps. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio; Colin Allred and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas; Lloyd Doggett of Austin; Veronica Escobar of El Paso; Sylvia Garcia, Lizzie Fletcher and Al Green of Houston; and Marc Veasey of Fort Worth. Republican U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, who represents Uvalde County, declined to join, Castro's office said.
The city of Uvalde has declined to fulfill any records request from The Texas Tribune since the shooting, even those unrelated to the incident. In Texas, public agencies seeking to block the release of records must forward requests to the attorney general, citing specific exemptions under the Texas Public Information Act.
The city has hired a private law firm to assist in withholding records. The firm has argued to the attorney general that releasing records related to the shooting — including police body camera footage, 911 calls and written communications — could be “highly embarrassing” to public officials and “not of legitimate concern to the public.”
Uvalde is not the only government entity seeking to keep records secret. The Tribune and ProPublica have filed about 70 public records requests related to the shooting to local, state and federal agencies. Few have been fulfilled.
The members of Congress who signed the letter also said public officials should not hide behind what is known as the “dead suspect loophole,” an exemption to releasing public records meant to protect individuals who are never convicted of a crime. However, this exemption can also be applied to suspects who have died and thus won’t face prosecution, as is the case with the shooter in Uvalde.
Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said last month it would be “absolutely unconscionable” for officials to use the loophole to withhold records related to the shooting.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told a Texas Senate committee last week he was open to releasing troopers’ body camera footage so long as the Uvalde County district attorney grants permission for him to do so.
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