The Texas Department of Public Safety must release records related to last year’s deadly Uvalde elementary school shooting, a district court judge in Austin ruled Thursday.
District court judge Daniella Deseta Lyttle ruled in favor of a coalition of media outlets – including CNN – that sued the state department last year, arguing that the department violated state law by broadly refusing to release records related to the May 2022 massacre of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School.
The suit was brought by more than a dozen major news outlets seeking transparency and insight into the botched response of law enforcement who arrived at the scene and waited for more than an hour before confronting and killing the gunman, who had holed up inside a pair of connected classrooms with the victims.
The public safety department had disclosed some information, but dismissed requests for other records on the grounds that a local district attorney says she is conducting an ongoing investigation.
The department has been asked to produce dashcam videos from police vehicles, recordings and transcripts of 911 calls, records of the training public safety department officers received and numerous other documents.
The department can redact some information from the records before releasing them as allowed by law, and must provide a list of proposed redactions to the court by August 31, the judge said. A hearing is expected to be held in September to discuss the department’s proposal.
In the wake of the massacre, families and public officials slammed the Texas Department of Public Safety for its reluctance to share information and shifting narratives on authorities’ actions that day.
“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,” Laura Lee Prather, a First Amendment lawyer who represents the plaintiffs, said when the suit was filed.
The other news organizations participating in the suit are ABC, CBS, NBC, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal owner Dow Jones, The Washington Post, ProPublica, and local TV and media companies Gannett, Graham Media, Scripps and TEGNA.
A Texas House investigative committee tasked with examining the circumstances surrounding the shooting found “systemic failures and egregious poor decision making” by law enforcement and other entities, according to a preliminary report the panel released in July 2022.
The report outlined a series of failures by several law enforcement agencies and described “an overall lackadaisical approach” by authorities on the scene.
The report said that first responders “lost critical momentum” by treating the situation as a “barricaded subject” scenario instead of an active shooter situation.
Law enforcement experts have said a more immediate confrontation with the shooter could have allowed victims to receive critical medial care, possibly saving some lives.