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Release of Police Department “Body Cam” Footage Remains an Issue for Texas Newsrooms

A recent decision by the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office to withhold body camera footage involving the death of a suspect in a confrontation with its deputies points out the problems Texas newsrooms can face when seeking such footage.

In this case, the suspect died from gunshot to the head, but the medical examiner has not ruled whether the wound was caused by sheriff’s deputies or was self-inflicted.

While the video is a publicly funded record of events of the encounter between law enforcement and a suspect, accessing such footage can be challenging depending on the Texas venue and the law enforcement entity involved.

Texas law enforcement can withhold the video from public view under a Texas law which exempts material from release if it is related to an investigation that did not result in a conviction or a deferred adjudication.

It is a Texas Public Information Act provision often referred to as the “dead suspects loophole.”

Some Texas law enforcement agencies, in the interest of transparency, have developed their own policies regarding the release of such video, such as the City of Austin and City of Fort Worth.

In most instances, however, law enforcement retains its authority to make a final decision on release.

The San Antonio Express News reported that the Bexar County Commissioners Court had previously “adopted a policy that the Sheriff’s

Office must release body camera footage within 10 days of an incident.”

In this latest instance, BCSO is not releasing the footage at the request of the family of the deceased.

The family has been shown the body camera video, but Texas Public Information Act requests for the same footage have been denied.

As the situation currently stands, the public’s right to know what its publicly funded law officers did during the incident remains in the dark.

St. Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, and others has filed proposals in the past two legislative sessions seeking to add more transparency to law enforcement records such as body camera footage, but the efforts have failed.

Moody’s latest proposal, HB 2382, would have required release of body, dashboard, or other law enforcement video within 60 days of a critical incident.

HB 2383 never received a hearing before the House State Affairs Committee.

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

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