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Moody Files Legislation to Make Information in Suspect Custody Deaths Available

Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, is taking another shot at passing a bill allowing more access to law enforcement information in cases in which the suspect or suspects involved died.  

Under Section 552.108 of the Texas Public Information Act, law enforcement materials do not have to be released if there is a pending investigation or unless there is a final court outcome.  It is the most widely used exception in the act.

The problem encountered by newsrooms and the public is that there won’t be a final court outcome if a suspect in a case is deceased.  Sometimes, in such instances, law enforcement also claims the investigation is ongoing even though the only suspect is dead.  Moody’s proposal, HB 147, could be used, for example, to get information about the circumstances in which a suspect or suspects died while in law enforcement custody.

During emotional 2017 committee testimony, the parents of Graham Dyer, who died while in police custody, detailed the Mesquite P.D.’s refusal to release video and records related to their son’s 2013 death.  After the information was not released under the TPIA, Dyer’s parents eventually obtained video and records from the FBI, which had reviewed the case for a federal civil rights violation.  They did so by filing a federal Freedom of Information Act request.

The video showed officers shocking Dyer in the testicles with a Taser, who thrashed about in pain, further injuring him.  It also established a timeline that showed Dyer had been left in a jail cell for several hours before an ambulance was ever called.

Austin’s KXAN-TV recently did an investigative series highlighting the issue and demonstrating how families such as the Dyers and others have been kept in the dark about the circumstances of how their loved ones died while in law enforcement custody.  The bill, however, would also be useful in instances in which a high-profile investigation remains closed off even though the suspect in the case is deceased.

View KXAN Investigative Series

In the same 2017 committee hearing, KXAS-TV Fort Worth investigative reporter Scott Friedman noted that much of the information related to the 2016 Dallas Police Department sniper attack remains withheld even though the lone suspect shooter died in the incident.  As there is no final court outcome, the Dallas P.D. said it did not have to release the information.

TAB and other Open Government groups met with Moody, a former El Paso County prosecutor, at the beginning of the 2017 legislative session to discuss the issue, after which he filed legislation addressing the concern.  The bill made it all the way to a House calendar, only to see it expire when it wasn’t heard in time to beat a House bill deadline. 

Moody, TAB and other Open Government groups hope to build upon last session’s effort and win passage of HB 147 this year.

Questions? Contact TAB's Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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