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DPS Director Responds to Letter on Security Report

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.

Updated, July 17, 12:15 p.m.:

In a 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:

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.

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/07/17/protesters-question-dps-report-confiscations/.

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