Texas judge orders DPS to release Uvalde shooting records

It has been a year and a half since the mass school shooting in Uvalde

News organizations have been pushing the Texas Department of Public Safety to release records of the law enforcement response on that day. Now, a state district judge has finally ordered DPS to fulfill those records requests. 

FOX 7 Austin's Mike Warren spoke with Texas Tribune reporter Zack Despart about the ruling.


MIKE WARREN: Could you give us some background on this push to get these records, and why you think the judge finally made the decision?

ZACH DESPART: So the Texas Tribune, along with a consortium of other news organizations, sued the state police last August because we had filed dozens of records requests related to the school shooting, what the police had uncovered in their early investigation of it. The state police had not fulfilled any of those dozens of requests. We had argued in the lawsuit that these records are inherently public and that they should be released. The judge in ruling this week that the state police have to turn over the records, acknowledged that the state police have concluded their investigation of the shooting. They have turned that over to the local district attorney. That means that the exemption, the reason that they had said that they couldn't release the records because of an ongoing investigation is no longer valid. So we will finally have, 18 months after the shooting, a much better public understanding of what went wrong because of that.

MIKE WARREN: Talking about that one, is DPS going to appeal this ruling? And if they don't win, are you actually going to get your hands on these records?

ZACH DESPART: That's a key question. The judge's order says DPS has to turn over these records within 20 days or they have the option to appeal. They have indicated in court hearings throughout this process that they likely will appeal. And they didn't respond to me yesterday when I asked them this question. If they do appeal, it likely means that the records will be withheld throughout that appeals process, which could take months or more than a year.

MIKE WARREN: I'll ask you to speculate a little bit here, but why has the DPS slow-walked this entire thing?

ZACH DESPART: That's a good question. DPS has argued throughout the process that they are still investigating. The local district attorney has said that she is still investigating and still considering whether to file charges perhaps against the police officers who responded. I think the important point to note there is all of this evidence has existed since right in the beginning, the days after the shooting. Why you wouldn't be able to make those charging decisions after 18 months, I think is a tough question.


MIKE WARREN: Once these records finally do come out, what are the key things you want to learn from them?

ZACH DESPART: I think it's important for the public to have these records to get an understanding of what went wrong. The state police have selectively released information throughout this process. This mass release of records removes that discretion that allows journalists, and allows the public, to finally see for themselves everything that went wrong, and to be able to vet this process without all those records being filtered by DPS.

MIKE WARREN: And talking about the public at large, especially the families of the victims that day. How do you think this could affect them?

ZACH DESPART: That's an important question as well, because there is a two-year statute of limitations to file federal civil rights lawsuits related to this shooting. That statute of limitations will expire in May. These families have said that they are looking for these records to use as evidence in these potential cases. If there is an appeal, they may not get this evidence in before that deadline.