Amendment Would Close Dead Suspect Loophole

Barbara Schwarz
May 15, 2019 - 8:20 pm
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AUSTIN (1080 KRLD) - The amendment in an omnibus Texas bill would increase get rid of the so-called "dead suspect loophole."

As it stands now, police only have to release basic information after a suspect, be it a murder suspect or someone pulled over for a traffic violation, die in police custody. Democratic state representative Joe Moody of El Paso is behind the amendment, and the House passed Senate Bill 944, with the amendment, by a vote of 145-0. 

Kathy Mitchell with Just Liberty, an Austin non-profit, says the open records act says as of now, only basic information is required to be released. "Obviously you want a lot more than that. You want witness statements, you want body camera video. You want to see what bystanders said or if there's cell phones that were taking pictures and were picked up by the officer."

Scott Henson with the same group says these are situations where you want accountability, such as police shootings. "For that matter, the Sandra Bland case. This video that just came out, that was withheld under the dead suspect loophole. That was information that they didn't have to release because there was never a criminal conviction."

Mitchell says there are various laws that require little slivers of information to be released under special circumstances. "There is a special law on body camera video that allows but does not require the body camera video to be released. So department have been releasing it, frankly, to some of us it looks like when it makes them look good and not releasing it when it doesn't."

The bill now goes back to the senate. 

The amendment is opposed by CLEAT, or the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, the state's biggest police union.