Texas judge orders release of Uvalde shooting records, but DPS could still delay

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AUSTIN (The Texas Tribune) — A Travis County state district judge has ordered the Department of Public safety to release law enforcement records related to the 2022 school shooting in Uvalde, more than a year after a consortium of news organizations sued for access.

261st Civil District Court Judge Daniela Deseta Lyttle ordered DPS to fulfill 28 records requests filed by the news organizations, which include The Texas Tribune and ProPublica, subject to redactions such as personal information of police officers and blurring the faces of minor victims in crime scene photographs.

The files would shed light on the disastrous police response that day, in which officers waited more than an hour to confront the shooter after learning he had an AR-15 style rifle.

Lyttle issued a preliminary order in June; the one issued Tuesday is the final judgment. It requires DPS to provide the records sought within 20 days, unless the state police agency appeals the ruling.

“DPS promised to disclose the results of this investigation once it was completed,” said Laura Prather, a media law attorney with Haynes Boone who represents the news organizations. “It was completed in February and they still haven’t provided any answers to these families.”

DPS did not return a request for comment on Thursday.

Prather said an appeal would likely limit the ability of victims’ families to file federal lawsuits alleging that police had committed civil rights violations. The statute of limitations on those complaints, formally called Section 1983 claims, is two years.

“It prevents (families) from having the evidence they need,” Prather said.

The state police agency had previously argued that releasing records could interfere with ongoing investigations into the shooting, though DPS said it had completed its initial report on the shooting and provided it to the Uvalde County district attorney.

Between the shooting in May 2022 and the filing of the news organizations’ lawsuit three months later, DPS selectively released information about the shooting during press conferences and public hearings held by the Legislature.

The Tribune and ProPublica separately gained access to materials from the investigation, publishing a series of stories that detailed multiple failures. On Tuesday, the news organizations will publish a piece and a documentary, in collaboration with FRONTLINE, which reveals new details about the response.

Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell also opposed disclosure of records to the news organizations. She argued their release could harm her investigation into any potential criminal charges she could pursue based on the DPS investigation.

Mitchell also said falsely that “all of the families of the deceased children” had told her they supported blocking the records from release. Attorneys representing the majority of the 21 families whose relatives were killed in the massacre said this was not true.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at www.texastribune.org. The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans – and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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