School shooting

Uvalde families ask to join suit pushing for DPS to release public records

The state’s top police department, which oversees the Texas Rangers — whose officers investigated the shooting — has refused to release records, including incident reports, internal communications, ballistic reports and body-camera footage.

Uvalde gun safety advocacy
Velma Duran, the sister of Irma Garcia, one of the two teachers killed in the Robb Elementary school shooting, confronts Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw after he finished testifying to the Homeland Security & Public Safety committee hearing at the state Capitol in Austin on Feb. 28, 2023. "They stood around and enabled the shooter to obliterate my sister. You couldn't recognize her," Duran said to McCraw. "Look at me!"

Some Uvalde families of victims who were killed or injured during the massacre at Robb Elementary School last year have asked a judge to add them as plaintiffs to a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Public Safety to argue that public records related to the shooting be released.

Numerous news organizations, including The Texas Tribune and ProPublica, are suing DPS for records that could provide a more complete picture of law enforcement's response to the shooting, which left 19 students and two teachers dead in the border community.

Thomas J. Henry and Robert Wilson, the lawyers for the families of a teacher and a student killed, and other injured children, wrote in a court document filed in the case this week asking to be part of the lawsuit because they have the same interest as the news organizations suing.

"The reasons given for the withholding of the investigation or finding of the Texas Rangers and the Texas Department of Public Safety are without merit and unreasonable," the lawyers wrote. The families "as victims of the tragedy, have a compelling need for the information that will override the need to keep the information withheld."

The state's top police department, which oversees the Texas Rangers — whose officers investigated the shooting — has refused to release records, including incident reports, internal communications, ballistic reports and body-camera footage.

Uvalde District Attorney Christina Mitchell, who has said she would eventually present the case to a grand jury to determine if anyone should face prosecution, has sided with DPS and has asked the same judge to withhold the records. In a court filing, Mitchell's office argued that publicly releasing the records could jeopardize any criminal charges Mitchell may seek.

Since the May 24 massacre at the elementary school, state and local officials have offered conflicting accounts of what happened. Gov. Greg Abbott initially praised the response, then said he was misled when authorities revealed that law enforcement waited more than an hour to confront the gunman.

Footage and records separately obtained by news organizations have helped to show the flawed law enforcement response and additional failures that further delayed emergency medical treatment.

Last week, Mitchell's office claimed in a court affidavit that the families of every child who was killed shared her view of withholding the investigative report.

"All of the families of the deceased children have stated to District Attorney Mitchell that they do not want the investigation of the Texas Rangers released until she has had ample time to review the case and present it to an Uvalde grand jury, if appropriate," her office wrote.

But the families' attorneys said they do want the report released.

"These Uvalde families fundamentally deserve the opportunity to gain the most complete factual picture possible of what happened to their children," wrote Brent Ryan Walker, one of the attorneys who represents the parents of 16 deceased children and one who survived, in a court affidavit filed in the lawsuit.

The judge in the case has not made a ruling. The lawsuit is filed in the 53rd District Court in Travis County.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/03/15/uvalde-families-public-records-lawsuit/. The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.