Disclosure of certain law enforcement records rests in the hands of Attorney General Ken Paxton.
In an attempt to learn more about a June 29 officer-involved shooting in the 600 block of Boswell Crossing in Lantana, the Denton Record-Chronicle filed a request for information under the Texas Public Information Act on July 2.
Body camera video, the offense report, 911 call audio, dash camera video, audio of calls for service and more was formally requested by the paper.
On July 11, the paper received notice from a paralegal working on behalf of the sheriff’s office that the request had been appealed to the attorney general, who has roughly eight weeks to make a decision.
Why all the fuss?
Shortly after 7 a.m. on June 29, deputies were called to the upscale Lantana neighborhood. The official narrative given thus far is straightforward, if incomplete.
A 61-year-old man entered the home uninvited and threatened the three people inside. When deputies arrived on scene, the man allegedly leveled a shotgun at them before being shot and killed by law enforcement.
Neighbors said the man did not live in the home; he caught the homeowners by surprise the morning they were meant to leave for a trip with friends.
Since the case involved an officer-involved shooting, the Texas Rangers were called in to assist in the investigation.
“When police end up in a confrontation that results in a citizen’s death, that is certainly of very high legitimate interest to the public,” said Jim Hemphill, an attorney with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
Why not release the information?
In a nearly 1,200-word argument to the attorney general’s office, legal counsel to the sheriff broke down the request for information into its component parts.
The argument also references an email from Clair Barnes, the Texas Ranger serving the Denton area, “stating that the investigation is ongoing, and asking that no information be released.”
Hemphill said the spirit of the public information act dictates that as much information as possible should be available to the public, as long as it doesn’t interfere with legitimate law enforcement objectives.
Simply put, most of the sheriff’s office arguments revolve around what should be considered confidential. The legal counsel argued that releasing audio recordings, camera footage, call records and the offense report could interfere with the investigation or prosecution of the crime.
When Hemphill was briefed on this case, he said there can be a legitimate concern that releasing information that is generally considered open — including the names of officers involved and 911 audio — could harm an investigation.
“But that should be something that is supported with evidence and not mere conjecture,” he added.
He also explained that specific law enforcement evidence to that effect would be shared with the attorney general and not made public.
A section in favor of withholding dash and body camera footage argued that license plates belonging to uninvolved people could not be redacted. The argument that followed said, “The Sheriff’s Office does not have the technical ability to redact information from these recordings,” so neither video can be released.
A similar rationale — personal information is included, so no part of the document will be released — was used to withhold other pieces of information, including call records.
The Denton Record-Chronicle mailed a set of counterarguments on July 12.