AUSTIN (Nexstar) — On Wednesday, a Travis County district judge denied a state senator’s request to order the Texas Department of Public Safety to release records related to the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde.
Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, requested various records under public information laws that could provide more clarity on the emergency response following the Robb Elementary School shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers. After his request to DPS went unfulfilled, he sued.
In her order, Judge Catherine Mauzy cited issues in how Gutierrez requested the records.
“As [Gutierrez’s] request not properly submitted pursuant to Tex. Gov’t Code § 552.234, the Court did not consider whether the requested information is exempted from required public disclosure by the Texas Public Information Act,” the order said.
During the lawsuit hearing last Thursday, lawyers with the Texas Attorney General’s office argued Gutierrez’s open records request was not valid due to how it was submitted. The state argued his public information request needed to be submitted through its online PIR portal within the agency’s media relations office.
The DPS public information portal said, “electronic requests will be accepted only if they are sent through our Public Information Request page or emailed.” It also gives options for how to mail such requests.
“It’s just preposterous that we are arguing the semantics on how to deliver something, an open records request. The major point of these things is does the government have notice, actual or constructive? Well, guess what, they had both…they absolutely did nothing with it. It shouldn’t take a lawsuit to be honest with the people of Texas.”
Gutierrez told Nexstar he “respectfully disagrees” with the judge’s order. The senator said he emailed his letter to DPS requesting things like the department’s training manual to learn about active shooter protocol and documents related to the agency’s response. Gutierrez said the letter was also hand-delivered to Director Col. Steven McCraw.
The senator said he has filed many similar requests to state agencies throughout his political career, and the method has “never been an issue.”
The ruling comes as a win for state police, which have been able to keep secret the details of how 91 law enforcement officers responded to the shooting, nearly three months after the massacre at Robb Elementary. Judge Mauzy’s narrow ruling did not address whether DPS should be allowed to keep those records private.
During last week’s hearing on this lawsuit, Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee asked the judge to side with DPS, citing concerns that the release of records could interfere with ongoing investigations and her ability to potentially prosecute.
Information about law enforcement response that day has made it into the public eye, however. Leaks of hallway video and tidbits of information have been released through media outlets as pressure for answers mounts from Uvalde families still mourning. McCraw, despite Busbee’s request, gave a detailed account of response to the Texas Senate on June 21, placing the lion’s share of blame on Uvalde CISD police chief Pete Arredondo. Additionally, the House Committee report detailed widespread failure from law enforcement responders in multiple agencies.
Gutierrez says the information he is seeking is “benign” to the investigation but critical to the families who are seeking accountability.
“It is very disturbing that the Department of Public Safety has continued to fail to disclose even the most benign information to the public. You shouldn’t need a lawsuit to be honest and transparent with people about what occurred,” he said.
More than a dozen media outlets are also suing DPS for withholding records related to law enforcement response on that day.
Gutierrez said he and his legal team are looking into appealing the order and will re-submit its open records request again.
DPS did offer to hand over the records to Gutierrez, but on the condition that he signs a non-disclosure agreement. Gutierrez has so far refused to sign and NDA and said he doesn’t plan on doing so.
“We’ll live to fight another day,” he said. “We’re gonna get to the bottom of this, whether it’s my lawsuit or the lawsuit of the media. But under no terms am I gonna stop this fight.”