On June 13 2022, a Reddit user on r/WhitePeopleTwitter shared a screenshot of two tweets about the purported refusal by Texas police to release body cam footage from the Uvalde school shooting:
Cox linked to a June 13 2022 Vice.com piece, “Texas Police Want Uvalde Bodycam Footage Suppressed Because It Could Expose Law Enforcement ‘Weakness.'” It covered a direct request by Vice.com to law enforcement agencies in Texas, seeking “body camera footage, CCTV footage, audio recordings, and photos from the scene in an attempt to gain more clarity about what law enforcement did at the scene of the shooting.”
The story described responses received as of June 13 2022 from various agencies investigating the Uvalde shooting:
Customs and Border Patrol rejected our request within a day, noting that any body camera footage is part of an active investigation and thus exempt from Freedom of Information requests. Uvalde Police and the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, who were not cooperating with an investigation by DHS, have yet to acknowledge our requests. By law, they have 10 business days to respond; in practice, many government agencies around the country simply ignore freedom of information requests or only respond when badgered or threatened with litigation. Motherboard filed those requests nine business days ago [as of June 13 2022].
The Texas Department of Public Safety, however, responded quickly to our request and acknowledged that “photographs and audio as well as video records” do exist. Last week [on June 9 2022], the New York Times published details from a transcript of body camera footage.
“The Department has located records responsive to your request; however, we believe the records may be excepted from required public disclosure at this time,” a lawyer for the department said. “We are seeking a ruling from the Office of the Attorney General with respect to disclosure of these records, and a copy of our request letter is enclosed.”
Vice.com referenced a June 9 2022 New York Times article that described transcripts from Uvalde body cam recordings:
Heavily armed officers delayed confronting a gunman in Uvalde, Texas, for more than an hour even though supervisors at the scene had been told that some trapped with him in two elementary school classrooms needed medical treatment, a new review of video footage and other investigative material shows. Instead, the documents show, they waited for protective equipment to lower the risk to law enforcement officers.
“We think there are some injuries in there,” the man believed to be Chief Arredondo said several minutes before the breach, according to the transcript. “And so you know what we did, we cleared off the rest of the building so we wouldn’t have any more, besides what’s already in there, obviously.” It was not clear from the transcript whom he was speaking to … But with two officers who initially approached the door shot at and grazed, Chief Arredondo appeared to have decided that quickly breaching the classrooms without shields and other protection would have led to officers possibly being killed. He focused instead on getting other children out of the school while waiting for additional protection equipment.
The response by the police at Robb Elementary School is now the subject of overlapping investigations by the Texas state police and the U.S. Justice Department. It was the subject of a closed-door hearing at the State Capitol in Austin on Thursday [June 9 2022] that featured the director of the state police, Steven McCraw.
Vice.com’s article also referenced the “dead suspect loophole.” Austin, Texas news outlet KXAN-TV also mentioned the “dead suspect loophole” in June 2020 reporting in the death of a man in police custody (“How the ‘dead suspect loophole’ kept information about Javier Ambler’s death in the dark”), in relation to an ongoing journalistic investigation:
The loophole was the subject of the KXAN Investigation “Denied Evidence,” which began in 2018. State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) authored a bill last legislative session that would have closed the loophole. It failed, he said, because of opposition from law enforcement groups.
In March 2021, KXAN-TV again addressed the issue in the context of police accountability:
The dead-suspect loophole allows law enforcement agencies to permanently withhold public information — like body or dash camera video — if someone dies in their custody. The rule exists because most criminal records associated with a case that has not resulted in a conviction or deferred adjudication can be withheld. The case of a suspect who dies in custody will never be completed, therefore those case records aren’t public.
KXAN dug into the dead-suspect loophole, and how it has affected families of people who died in custody, in our investigation DENIED.
Business Insider mentioned the “dead suspect loophole” in a June 6 2022 article about Uvalde body cam footage, “Bodycam footage could provide a clear timeline in the Uvalde shooting but police could never release it thanks to the ‘dead suspect loophole.'” On June 14 2022, NPR reported that efforts by the Associated Press to obtain access to the information was similarly stymied, and that the 1997 law was never intended to be used in the manner described:
Officials have declined to release more details, citing the investigation. In a letter received Thursday [June 9 2022] by The Associated Press and other media outlets, a law firm representing the City of Uvalde asked for the Texas attorney general’s office to rule on records requested in relation to the shooting, citing 52 legal areas — including the section containing the loophole — that they believe exempt the records from being released.
During the growing silence, lawyers and advocates for the victim’s families are beginning to fear they may never get the answers, that authorities will close the case and rely on the exception to the Texas Public Information law to block the release of any further information.
The law’s exception protects information from being released in crimes for which no one has been convicted. The Texas Attorney General’s Office has ruled that it applies when a suspect is dead. Salvador Ramos, the 18-year-old man who police say was responsible for the mass killing at Robb Elementary School, was fatally shot by law enforcement.
The loophole was created in the 1990s to protect those wrongfully accused or whose cases were dismissed, according to Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “It is meant to protect the innocent,” Shannon said. But she said that in some cases “it is being used and misused in a way that was never intended.”
On June 3 2022, Vice.com detailed the possible extent of footage captured at the scene:
It’s highly likely that at least some of those officers, which included officers from Uvalde Police Department as well as the school district’s police department, were outfitted with body-cameras. (Neither Uvalde Police Department nor the Uvalde School District Police Department responded to VICE News’ inquiries).
Officers with the Uvalde Police Department first got bodycams in 2015.
In November 2020, they borrowed more than $13,000 from the city council to spend on state-of-the-art bodycams. According to an article in Uvalde Leader-News at the time, the plan was to get that money reimbursed by a grant from the Justice Department (there’s currently no record of the city of Uvalde receiving a DOJ grant since then).
They got 16 bodycams in total, manufactured by a California tech company, plus a sophisticated “evidence management system.”
Social media discourse on June 13 and 14 2022 involved a prominent claim police in Texas refused to release body cam footage related to the school shooting in Uvalde. On that date, Vice.com reported that their request for records had not been productive. The New York Times obtained a “transcript of officers’ body camera footage,” but the extent of the transcript was not detailed. Ongoing investigation by Austin-area outlet KXAN repeatedly focused on the “dead suspect loophole,” a 1997 law “to protect those wrongfully accused or whose cases were dismissed,” which was “being used and misused in a way that was never intended.”