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Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez on Wednesday sued the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), accusing the agency of unlawfully denying a public records request following the deadly massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde late last month, according to legal documents provided to Yahoo News.
“In the wake of this massacre, the State of Texas has completely failed to provide the community of Uvalde with truthful answers,” Gutierrez, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Weeks have come and gone, and yet families who lost their children have not been told by their government the basic information about who was on site as their children bled, what tools were at their disposal to stop the gunman, and exactly why they decided to wait instead of act.”
In the public records request, Gutierrez was seeking a ballistics report on the shooting, policy manuals or documents that explain how law enforcement works together during active shootings and any other reports that detail the police response to the shooting. The lawsuit, which comes nearly a month after the May 24 shooting — in which an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two teachers — states that the DPS had 10 business days to respond to Gutierrez’s request or seek a decision from the attorney general about the records request. The agency, the lawsuit says, did neither.
Gutierrez told Yahoo News last week that the lack of transparency by law enforcement has led to a lack of trust in Uvalde residents.
“That lack of trust is based less on the errors and omissions and more on the fact that no one is speaking up,” Gutierrez said. “There is no transparency and no truth. When you can’t own up to your truths and say you failed and let me know how you failed and then you will have problems.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has also been the culprit of misinformation. In a press conference one day after the shooting, Abbott said that a Uvalde school district officer confronted the gunman before he walked into the school. He later said he was misled about what happened the day of the shooting and was “livid” about it.
Abbott’s press secretary, Renae Eze, said in a statement Tuesday, “All information the Office of the Governor has related to the shooting in Uvalde has already been released to the public or is in an expedited process of being released. Governor Abbott has been adamant since day one that all information relating to the tragedy at Robb Elementary School be shared with the victims’ families, the Uvalde community, and the entire state.”
Wednesday’s suit appears to be just the latest domino in a frenzy of walk backs, procedural failures and silence from local law enforcement that has led to critics alleging a cover-up by the Uvalde Police Department.
Late last week, Vice reported the city of Uvalde and its police department were also working with a private law firm to prevent nearly any record of the shooting from being released to the public.
The Texas Tribune and ProPublica claim they have submitted about 70 requests to both state and local agencies for emergency response documentation for what happened that day at Robb Elementary. The requests include 911 calls, police body camera footage and communication between local, state and federal agencies, among other information. Thus far, none of those requests have been granted.
“The public wants immediate transparency,” Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, told the news outlets. “The most enlightened law enforcement agencies understand the importance of being transparent, being open and doing it right away.”
Texas DPS did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Yahoo News.
Reporters were asked to leave Uvalde City Hall because people are intimidated by us. Texas legislators are meeting here with law enforcement behind closed doors. The fire marshal also told a local chaplain and father of a victim to exit from the building. pic.twitter.com/ukyTmtHbOt
— Shimon Prokupecz (@ShimonPro) June 20, 2022
CNN reporter Shimon Prokupecz shared a video on Monday showing that he and other media personnel were asked to leave Uvalde City Hall where lawmakers were meeting with law enforcement behind closed doors because people were “intimidated” by them.
The footage led to many users decrying #UvaldeCoverUp on social media.
Later that evening, attorney Sara Azara tweeted that the officer response showed “ineptitude and cowardice” after new footage revealed that Uvalde police were inside the school with rifles and at least one ballistic shield nearly an hour before they confronted the shooter.
“58 minutes of blood shed [and] massacre as officers stood idly outside the classroom,” Azara tweeted. “Armed and shielded. The ineptitude and cowardice alone warrants disclosure of the bodycam. Produce the goods! #UvaldeCoverUp."
Sara Spector, a former Uvalde prosecutor of five years who last worked in the city in 2017, told Yahoo News earlier this month that given her experience with local police, she has doubts the public will ever know the truth.
“I knew after the second press conference that there was a cover-up, that something was wrong,” Spector said. “I knew eight years ago and that this was bringing up a lot of memories for me that I’d forgotten.”
While the legal implications pile on, physical changes are coming to Uvalde. Mayor Don McLaughlin, at a city council meeting on Tuesday, said Robb Elementary School would be demolished, though he provided no timeline.
“You can never ask a child to go back or teacher to go back in that school ever,” he said.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, Abbott’s opponent this November, has been a consistent voice, demanding transparency about last month’s massacre.
“Stop misleading us,” O’Rourke tweeted on Monday in response to a report that Abbott was fighting the release of public records. “Texans deserve to know what happened in Uvalde. Tell the truth.”
Cover thumbnail photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images