AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Attorney General’s Office updated a September a ruling related to the release of officer personnel information, according to the ruling which KXAN received from a police source.
The original ruling – which was on a public information request for certain contents of an officer’s personnel file, according to Austin Police Association President Thomas Villarreal – came down during a September city council meeting. City council was discussing the Austin Police Oversight Act during that meeting, and the mayor and council discussed the ruling in executive session. The ruling allowed for this information, which previously could not be released under state law, to be released in the specific case at hand.
At the time, Mayor Kirk Watson said “more clarity needs to be obtained,” about the matter, as the council discussed how much of the original contents of the Austin Police Oversight Act could be implemented without violating state law.
“We have received new information that affects the facts on which this ruling
was based,” reads an Oct. 17 letter from the Attorney General’s Office to the Austin City Attorney’s Office, further calling the new ruling a “substitute” to the original ruling issued on Sept. 18 regarding contents of the officer’s personnel file.
According to the ruling, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT) reached out to the Attorney General’s Office saying the September ruling was flawed.
According to Villarreal, state law grants the public access to personnel files on any misconduct that resulted in officer’s disciplinary action. But if an officer is found not to have violated APD policy or receive any disciplinary action, Villarreal said, that information cannot be released.
The September ruling, according to the Attorney General’s Office, granted the release of “records included in the departmental personnel file related to complaints against the police officer for which no disciplinary action was taken.” The Oct. 17 update states that information is actually “confidential under section 143.089(g) of the Local Government Code and must be withheld.”
History of the Austin Police Oversight Act
The root of this back and forth goes to the battle at the ballot box between two petitions titled “Austin Police Oversight Act.”
One was spearheaded by the advocacy group Equity Action. The other was written by Voters for Oversight and Police Accountability, which is backed by the Austin Police Association (APA). While both petitions contain many of the same points regarding the role of the Office of Police Oversight (OPO), Equity Action’s version has more provisions that give OPO more power. Equity Action’s version passed in the May election.
The Austin Police Association said the “unfettered” access the new ordinance now allows is in violation of state law.
Equity Action planning legal counter following new AG ruling
“We’re very much engaged with lawyers about a potential legal response to this,” said Chris Harris with the board of Equity Action. “I think we’re also very interested in continuing to push through the resolution that passed.”
Harris said he’s frustrated with the back and forth related to this and believes the city has “different claims on how it handles police records.”
“The voters have said [the City] needs to make a different choice,” he said. “And they need to comply with the will of the voters.”