The Denton County Sheriff’s Office is refusing to name the deputy who shot and killed Kristopher Adams last week near Sanger, a move to withhold public information that has become routine for this agency.
Police reports are public records. On those reports are the names of officers (or deputies) who handle the specific incident — in this case, a deputy shooting and killing a man. But the sheriff’s office is refusing to provide that public information in this case, as it has done in others.
“That comes up all the time because the officer’s name would be on the front sheet of the offense report normally,” Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas attorney Bill Aleshire said Thursday. “I’ve seen police [agencies] just defy the law and withhold an officer’s name — and there is no legal excuse for doing it.”
Sheriff’s office spokesman Orlando Hinojosa on Thursday would not cite a specific exemption in the Texas Public Information Act that allows his office to keep this information from the public. He was asked multiple times but would not provide an answer. Similarly, nearly half a dozen attempts to reach Sheriff Tracy Murphree over the course of two days were unsuccessful.
Murphree has already defied state precedent in not having the Texas Rangers investigate the shooting, instead asking the Denton Police Department to investigate. The Rangers routinely investigate officer-involved shootings across the state.
The sheriff’s office reported via a news release days after the shooting that Adams’ back was turned away from the deputy who shot him but that he was pointing a handgun toward deputies. Meanwhile, neither Murphree nor the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office on Thursday would say where or how many times Adams had been shot — 10 days after the incident.
That leaves family and friends of Adams to wonder what exactly happened the night of Sept. 16.
When a Denton County deputy shot and killed a man in the Lantana area on June 29, the sheriff’s office refused to release the deputy’s name. The Denton Record-Chronicle requested documents, including the police report, from that shooting, but none of the records provided listed the deputy’s name.
On Thursday, as Hinojosa was being questioned about the Sanger shooting, he said the deputy’s name would not be released until after an internal investigation was complete. Hinojosa then was asked for the name of the deputy involved in the Lantana shooting, to which he said to file a public records request.
When reminded that several requests already had been filed — none of which had revealed the deputy’s name — Hinojosa said the sheriff’s office would not release the name because a grand jury had found the deputy didn’t do anything criminally wrong.
The Record-Chronicle on Sept. 19 filed a public records request for police reports and other documents connected with the Sanger shooting. By state law, the sheriff’s office is required to provide the information “promptly” for inspection, duplication or both — with the Public Information Act defining “promptly” to mean “as soon as possible under the circumstances, that is, within a reasonable time, without delay.”
If the sheriff’s office cannot produce the information sought within 10 business days of the request being filed, then the PIA requires the office to “certify that fact in writing to the requestor and set a date and hour within a reasonable time when the information will be available for inspection or duplication.” As well, if the sheriff’s office believes the information being sought is exempt from public disclosure, then it has 10 business days to ask for an attorney general’s decision allowing it to withhold the records.
But Section 552.108(c) of the state’s Public Information Act provides that basic information “about an arrested person, an arrest, or a crime” may not be withheld, including the location of the crime and the names of the arresting and investigating officers.