Lawmakers still considering measure to eliminate dead suspect loophole

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The author of a measure that would eliminate the so-called “dead suspect loophole” in the state’s public information act was appointed this week to a conference committee that will discuss its fate. Lawmakers have less than a week to decide as this session closes Tuesday.

Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, originally authored a bill that found new life last week as an amendment to Senate Bill 944 — an omnibus piece of legislation that addresses several other open records points. 
SB 944 author Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, was also appointed to the committee along with eight others.

Conference committee members

If you want to contact members to express your thoughts:

  • Sen. Kirk Watson (Chair), D-Austin, email, 512-463-0114
  • Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, email, 512-463-0125
  • Sen. Kelly Hancock, R- North Richland Hills, email, 512-463-0109
  • Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, email, 512-463-0103
  • Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, email, 512-463-0108
  • Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (Chair), R-Southlake, email, 512-463-0690
  • Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, email, 512-463-0738
  • Rep. Mike Lang, R-Granbury, email, 512-463-0656
  • Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, email, 512-463-0728
  • Rep. Geanie W. Morrison, R-Victoria, email, 512-463-0456

Contact Gov. Greg Abbott’s office at 512-463-2000 or online.

An ongoing KXAN investigation has revealed police agencies across the state using it keep information secret when people die in their custody.

Throughout the past week, supporters of the amendment have urged Watson to keep it in the bill, as some in the police community — namely the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), the state’s largest police union — have raised concerns over a section that would make internal affairs files regarding unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct public in cases related to suspect deaths.

The amendment aimed to require police to release information in closed cases if a suspect is dead, incapacitated, or all parties involved agree to its release. It is the second legislative session Moody has tried to pass such a measure. He has described the current law as an “unintended consequence” of efforts to protect the privacy of people who were cleared of crimes. Crafted in 1997, it allows law enforcement to withhold information in closed cases that don’t “result in a conviction or deferred adjudication” even if a suspect dies in custody.

Demeisha Burns, the Central Texas mother featured in KXAN’s investigation after her 21-year-old son died in the Travis County Jail, emailed Watson this week, asking for his support of the amendment. Video and audio recordings detailing the days surrounding Herman Titus’ death were kept from Burns and her attorney for more than a year — beyond the timeframe to take certain legal action.

“If it wasn’t for KXAN getting involved and deciding to do this investigation about persons who are victims of this lack of information, my story may not had been heard. I am thankful for the report because I finally found out what transpired in my child’s death,” she wrote. “Families should be informed of what exactly happened leading up to this person’s death.”

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