A KXAN INVESTIGATIVE SERIES
Texas law gives police discretion to withhold information if a suspect dies in custody. Legislative efforts to close that loophole have failed, but it has not stopped the families who have been denied video and other records detailing their loved ones’ final moments from speaking out. Now, a year-long KXAN investigation is shedding light on this crucial need for police accountability, transparency and trust.
Graham Dyer Case
Police were dispatched to a school where Graham Dyer, 18, who appeared intoxicated, “ran full speed into an external glass door” and “began slamming his head into the ground.”
Zachary Anam Case
Handcuffed in the back of a patrol car on the way to jail, Zachary Anam made suicidal comments, removed a handgun from his waistband and shot himself in the head.
Texas Public Information Act: “Dead Suspect” Exemption
Under the Texas Public Information Act, law enforcement agencies may block the release of certain information in a closed case that didn’t end in a conviction. But when the only suspects die in custody, they will never have their day in court.
Sec.552.108. EXCEPTION: CERTAIN LAW ENFORCEMENT, CORRECTIONS, AND PROSECUTORIAL INFORMATION. (a) Information held by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021 if: (2) it is information that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime only in relation to an investigation that did not result in conviction or deferred adjudication;
In 2017, state lawmakers proposed an amendment to require police to release such information:
- If the person it involves is dead or agrees to its release.
- If it relates to a peace officer who is the subject of a criminal or internal investigation arising out of his or her involvement in a crime.
A House panel unanimously voted in favor of the legislation, but it failed to progress before the session ended. Efforts are underway to craft a similar bill in 2019.
Denied: Inside the Investigation
This project isn’t just about a journalist’s fight for records. It’s about a law with unintended consequences, impacting families and bringing doubt to communities. Transparency leads to trust. And when people trust police, it hopefully makes officers’ jobs easier and your city safer.
Josh Hinkle, Andrew Choat, Ricardo Ruano, Calily Bien, Patrick Tolbert, Eric Henrikson, Chris Stelly, Nate Mills, Dax Dobbs, Chad Cross and Eric Lassberg