Zach Despart

News organizations sue Texas Department of Public Safety over withheld Uvalde shooting records

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

More than a dozen news organizations filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Public Safety on Monday, accusing the agency of unlawfully withholding public records related to the May school shooting in Uvalde.

The organizations, which include ProPublica and The Texas Tribune, have each filed requests for information detailing the response to the massacre by various authorities under the Texas Public Information Act. ProPublica and the Tribune filed about 70 records requests with multiple agencies.

DPS has refused to release records sought in the requests, even as the agency has selectively disclosed some information through public testimony, third-party analyses and news conferences.

“In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, and continuing throughout the ensuing two months, DPS has declined to provide any meaningful information in response to the Requests regarding the events of that day — despite the awful reality that some 376 members of law enforcement responded to the tragedy, and hundreds of those were in the school or on school property not going into the unlocked classroom where the gunman continued killing helpless youth,” the lawsuit states.

A comprehensive report released in July by a Texas House of Representatives committee found that numerous law enforcement agencies, including the state police, failed to quickly confront the gunman, who killed 19 students and two teachers over the course of about 77 minutes. DPS has provided little information about the actions of its 91 officers who responded to the scene.

Under Texas law, records are presumed public unless a government body cites a specific exemption that allows information to be withheld under the state’s public information act.

DPS has said that releasing records could interfere with an ongoing investigation. The news organizations argue that there is no such investigation, given that the guilt of the gunman is not in dispute and authorities say the 18-year-old acted alone. The local prosecutor, Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee, has acknowledged that she is not conducting a criminal investigation.

The records requested by the news organizations include emails, body camera and other video footage, call logs, 911 and other emergency communications, interview notes, forensic and ballistic records, and lists of DPS personnel who responded to the shooting.

“The Texas Department of Public Safety has offered inconsistent accounts of how law enforcement responded to the Uvalde tragedy, and its lack of transparency has stirred suspicion and frustration in a community that is still struggling with grief and shock,” said Laura Lee Prather, a First Amendment lawyer at Haynes Boone who represents the news organizations. “DPS has refused numerous requests by these news organizations even though it’s clear under Texas law that the public is entitled to have access to these important public records. We ask that the court grant our petition so that the people of Texas can understand the truth about what happened.”

In addition to ProPublica and the Tribune, the plaintiffs include The New York Times Company, The Washington Post, NBC News, CNN, ABC News, CBS News, Scripps Media and Gannett.

The suit was brought in state district court in Travis County.

Leaked video shows Texas law enforcement’s long wait to confront Uvalde school shooter

July 12, 2022

"Leaked video shows Texas law enforcement’s long wait to confront Uvalde school shooter" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news

UVALDE — On the same day that a Texas House committee investigating the Uvalde school shooting announced plans to release footage of law enforcement response to the incident, a video showing police waiting for more than an hour in the school hallway before confronting the shooter was published by the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV.

[“If there’s kids in there, we need to go in”: Officers in Uvalde were ready with guns, shields and tools — but not clear orders]

The apparent leak of the video before victims’ families could view it drew ire from local and state leaders.

At a Uvalde City Council meeting Tuesday night, Mayor Don McLaughlin said it was unprofessional to have leaked the video to news outlets. He said families deserved to have viewed the video first before anyone else.

“The way that video was released today was the most chicken thing I’ve ever seen,” the mayor, stopping short of cursing, said during the meeting attended by residents and families affected by the shooting.

State Rep. Dustin Burrows, a Lubbock Republican and the committee’s chair, said earlier Tuesday that he planned to lead a private briefing for victims’ families in Uvalde on Sunday morning, allowing them to see the hallway video from a Robb Elementary School surveillance camera and discuss the committee’s preliminary report. Then the committee would release the video and the report to the public and answer questions from reporters, he said.

[What we know, minute by minute, about how the Uvalde shooting and police response unfolded]

But hours after that announcement, the Statesman and KVUE published a 1-hour-and-22-minute version of the video, edited to remove the sound of children screaming and to obscure the identity of a student who ran from the shooter in the hallway. It depicts police arriving at the scene quickly and approaching two classrooms where the gunman, an 18-year-old Uvalde resident, was shooting. The officers retreat after being fired on and do not reapproach for more than an hour, when several breach one of the classrooms and fatally shoot the gunman who killed 19 students and two teachers.

Multiple law enforcement officers from Uvalde, the state Department of Public Safety, U.S. Border Patrol and other agencies can be seen in the video. Many were heavily armed and had shields but waited more than an hour before they stormed the classroom.

Much of the details shown in the video have already been disclosed in media reports and details released by law enforcement. The Texas Tribune reviewed the footage on June 20, publishing a detailed written account based on the footage, other media reports and law enforcement records. The Tribune and the Statesman have also both published still images from security footage.

But the video itself shows in agonizing detail the waiting done outside the classroom.

Its release drew frustration from some state officials who said they wanted the families of the victims to have the opportunity to see the footage first. Burrows said Tuesday before the video’s publication that “we feel strongly that members of the Uvalde community should have the opportunity to see the video and hear from us before they are made public.”

Afterward, he said he was “disappointed.” And DPS Director Steven McCraw said in a statement those “most affected should have been among the first to see it.”

It’s unclear who provided the video to the Statesman and KVUE.

The footage is being made public over the objection of the Uvalde County district attorney, who had instructed DPS not to provide the video to the committee.

“As I stated during my testimony before the Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans, this video provides horrifying evidence that the law enforcement response to the attack at Robb Elementary on May 24 was an abject failure,” McCraw said Tuesday. “In law enforcement, when one officer fails, we all fail.”

Since last month, the three-person House committee — which also includes El Paso Democrat state Rep. Joe Moody and former Republican state Supreme Court justice Eva Guzman — has interviewed more than a dozen witnesses behind closed doors, including law enforcement and school workers.

Their report will be the second investigation into the law enforcement response of the shooting to be made public. Last week, the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center, located at Texas State University in San Marcos, released its comprehensive account of police tactics during the shooting.

Moody, the lone Democrat on the committee, said on Twitter that the report the House committee is preparing to release Sunday will provide more context to the video.

“A piecemeal release of information continues to tell part of a story that people deserve the complete truth about,” he said.

McCraw has said Uvalde schools police Chief Pete Arredondo was most responsible for a flawed response to the shooting. Uvalde CISD Superintendent Hal Harrell placed Arredondo on leave last month. Arredondo was elected to the Uvalde City Council before the shooting but wasn’t sworn in until after the massacre. Arredondo submitted his resignation from the City Council earlier this month. At Tuesday’s meeting, council members formally accepted that resignation and set a special election to fill his seat for November.

Since the May 24 shooting, community members have repeatedly pressed officials for details about what happened. Those calls intensified after Gov. Greg Abbott and DPS officials initially made several inaccurate statements about the police response. The governor and McCraw have since said that video footage from the school surveillance cameras should be released.

In Uvalde on Tuesday night, residents told McLaughlin it’s his job to stand up for the families who lost loved ones and get details of the investigations.

Resident Diana Olvedo-Karau said City Council members need to advocate aggressively for the families.

“If it means losing your seat, so be it,” she said.

Uvalde pastor Daniel Myers told the mayor he needs “to quit being so nice and step on some toes.”

The mayor said he was trying to get answers for the families.

Myers responded: “Well you need a bigger foot because they’re stepping all over you.”

Adam Martinez, whose 8-year-old son was at the school during the shooting, said the mayor blaming others is an excuse to not accept responsibility for not providing information to the families on the investigation.

“We used to have confidence in him but he hasn’t given us anything,” Martinez said. “He can do name calling but what we need is information.”


Join us at The Texas Tribune Festival, happening Sept. 22-24 in downtown Austin, and hear from 300+ speakers shaping the future of Texas including Joe Straus, Jen Psaki, Joaquin Castro, Mayra Flores and many others. See all speakers announced to date and buy tickets.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/07/12/texas-house-investigators-uvalde-shooting-video/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

At first meeting since massacre, Uvalde school board takes no action on police chief

The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District board took no action Friday evening against its embattled police chief, Pete Arredondo, in a special board meeting called in response to last week’s mass shooting at Robb Elementary School.

As incident commander, Arredondo made the decision to wait more than an hour for backup instead of ordering officers at the scene to immediately confront the shooter who killed 19 students and two teachers. The head of the state police later said this was the “wrong decision, period.”

Many residents had called on Arredondo to quit or be sacked, saying decisive action could have potentially saved lives. Although the agenda for Friday’s meeting allowed the board to terminate Arredondo, the board declined to do so.

Superintendent Bob Harrell said he is eager for several concurrent investigations, including ones by Uvalde County’s district attorney and federal Department of Justice, to run their course. But he told the 25 residents in attendance that he had no additional information to provide, other than reassuring parents that children would never return to Robb.

Just two residents signed up to speak at the meeting. Dawn Pointevent said her 7-year-old son, who was due to attend Robb next year, is now “deathly afraid” of going to school.

After the brief meeting, parent Angela Turner said she was disappointed the board did not fire Arredondo and did not discuss how the district would improve safety at schools.

Arredondo did not attend the meeting. He has gone to great lengths to avoid the public eye since the shooting. Last week he took the oath of office for the City Council, an additional position he was elected to last month, in a secret ceremony. Police officers have also guarded his home and workplace.

Arredondo, 50, was hired to lead the small school district police force in 2020. It has grown to a half-dozen officers, whose duties include providing security at campuses, staffing sporting events and narcotics work.

A career lawman who grew up in Uvalde and graduated from its high school in 1990, Arredondo previously spent 12 years in Laredo with the Webb County Sheriff’s Office and the United ISD Police Department.

GOP mega donor charged after bogus election fraud scheme led a former cop to threaten a repairman

"GOP mega donor Steven Hotze charged after a bogus election fraud scheme led a former cop to threaten a repairman" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Conservative activist Steven Hotze on Wednesday was indicted on two felony charges related to his alleged involvement in an air conditioning repairman being held at gunpoint in 2020 during a bizarre search for fraudulent mail ballots that did not exist, according to his attorney, Gary Polland.

Hotze, 71, was indicted by a Harris County grand jury and faces one count of unlawful restraint and one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Court filings in the case were not available Wednesday evening. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg declined to comment.

The charges stem from Hotze’s hiring of more than a dozen private investigators to look for voter fraud in Harris County ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

One of the investigators, former Houston police captain Mark Aguirre, was arrested in December 2020 and charged with aggravated assault. Prosecutors said Aguirre used his vehicle to run an air conditioning repairman off the road before dawn on Oct. 19, 2020.

Aguirre then detained the repairman at gunpoint and ordered an associate to search his truck, according to court filings. When a Houston police officer happened upon the scene and stopped to investigate, Aguirre said the truck contained 750,000 fraudulent mail ballots prepared by Democrats.

The truck contained only air conditioning parts and equipment. Hotze’s investigators have not produced any credible evidence to support allegations that Democrats orchestrated a wide-ranging mail ballot scheme in Harris County during that election.

Polland said the charges against Hotze are “outrageous” and his client had no knowledge of the roadside incident until he read media reports of Aguirre’s arrest. He said Aguirre asked Hotze for funds to investigate alleged election fraud, Hotze agreed, and that was the extent of his involvement in Aguirre’s affairs.

“All I know is Hotze didn’t aid or abet this in any way,” Polland said. “The donation of funds was for a righteous activity of rooting out ballot fraud.”

Grand jury subpoenas in Aguirre’s case show that Hotze paid Aguirre $266,400. Most of that sum, $211,400, was paid to Aguirre on the day after the alleged holdup.

Aguirre remains free on bond awaiting trial. One of his conditions of release is that he no longer work for Hotze.

Hotze, however, plans to continue monitoring election activity in Houston. At a “Freedom Gala” fundraiser Hotze hosted on April 2 with Attorney General Ken Paxton, Hotze said donations would be used to investigate voter fraud in Texas.

Also attending the event was Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO who has promoted the baseless theory that former President Donald Trump was the rightful winner of the 2020 presidential election.

Polland said Hotze does not plan to alter his plans because of the indictments.

Hotze, a physician, has long advocated on behalf of conservative issues. He was instrumental in the 2015 defeat of Houston’s anti-discrimination ordinance, which he derided as “pro-homosexual.” He opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage spurred by a Supreme Court ruling earlier that year.

In 2020, he unsuccessfully sued Harris County in an attempt to have 127,000 ballots cast at drive-thru locations thrown out.

His far-right beliefs have sometimes led to disputes with other Republicans. In June 2020, during protests following the police killing of George Floyd, Hotze left a voicemail with Gov. Greg Abbott’s chief of staff urging the governor “to shoot to kill if any of these son-of-a-bitch people start rioting.” U.S. John Cornyn called the remarks “absolutely disgusting and reprehensible.”

We can’t wait to welcome you in person and online to the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival, our multiday celebration of big, bold ideas about politics, public policy and the day’s news — all taking place just steps away from the Texas Capitol from Sept. 22-24. When tickets go on sale in May, Tribune members will save big. Donate to join or renew today.

Correction, April 20, 2022: Due to an editing error, Steven Hotze's name was previously misspelled in the headline. It's Steven, not Stephen.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/04/20/steve-hotze-houston-indicted-voter-fraud/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

BRAND NEW STORIES