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Nine Democratic members of Congress from Texas on Tuesday called on Attorney General Ken Paxton to order the release of government documents related to the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde that local officials are trying to withhold.
In a letter, the group said allowing the records to be released would help victims’ families heal by revealing the full truth about what happened at Robb Elementary School that day. They also said the disclosure was significant because officials had repeatedly changed their story about law enforcement’s response to the shooting.
“A first step to rebuilding trust in law enforcement and healing requires transparency from state and local authorities,” the letter said. “You have a choice: to shed light on what went wrong to help Uvalde heal or be part of the cover-up.
It is signed by US Representatives Joaquin Castro of San Antonio; Colin Allred and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas; Lloyd Doggett of Austin; Veronica Escobar of El Paso; Sylvia Garcia, Lizzie Fletcher and Al Green of Houston; and Marc Veasey of Fort Worth. Republican U.S. Representative Tony Gonzales, who represents Uvalde County, declined to join, Castro said.
The city of Uvalde has refused to respond to any requests for documents from the Texas Tribune since the shooting, even those unrelated to the incident. In Texas, public agencies seeking to block the release of documents must forward requests to the Attorney General, citing specific exemptions under the Texas Public Information Act.
The city hired a private law firm to help withhold the records. The company argued to the attorney general that the release of documents related to the shooting – including police body camera footage, 911 calls and written communications – could be “very embarrassing” for public officials and “not to legitimately concern the public”.
Uvalde is not the only government entity seeking to keep the archives secret. The Tribune and ProPublica filed about 70 public records requests related to the shooting with local, state and federal agencies. Few have been fulfilled.
Members of Congress who signed the letter also said public officials should not hide behind the so-called “dead suspect loophole,” an exemption from releasing public records intended to protect people. who are never convicted of a crime. However, this exemption can also be applied to suspects who are deceased and who will therefore not be prosecuted, as is the case of the shooter in Uvalde.
Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said last month it would be “absolutely impermissible” for officials to use the loophole to withhold records related to the shooting.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told a Texas Senate committee last week that he was open to releasing body camera footage of soldiers as long as the county prosecutor Uvalde grants him permission to do so.
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