Hundreds of law enforcement officers across Texas have such checkered histories that prosecutors have vowed to refuse cases brought by them — or, at the least, feel legally compelled to inform defense attorneys that the officers’ histories of dishonesty may help their clients.Here's their description of the project:
But, for the most part, you can’t know who those cops are or what they did, even though an American-Statesman investigation found that they have resulted in the dismissal of dozens of criminal cases.
Beginning last summer, the newspaper asked each of the state’s criminal district attorneys for copies of their so-called Brady lists, as well as letters they had sent to law enforcement agencies alerting them of local officers whose credibility was so shaky that they could not be used in court as a witness. Many smaller, rural prosecutor offices, especially, said they kept no list of suspect police officers — at least not formally.The Attorney General sided with law enforcement opacity on this question, but IMO that's a tremendously broad reading of Sec. 552.108 of the Public Information Act and the Statesman's attorneys would do well to sue to acquire these records. First, I think the recalcitrant prosecutors and the AG are legally in the wrong. Second, these records would provide fodder for potentially dozens of stories going forward that would make litigation worth the bang for the buck.
A number of elected prosecutors simply didn’t respond, ignoring state open records laws.
Several released their letters and lists without restriction. Ellis County District Attorney Patrick Wilson produced seven letters in which he said he would no longer accept cases from named officers.
Then-Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins compiled a spreadsheet of local police officers whose histories of falsifying documents or questionable behavior might compromise the credibility of their testimony. There are 192 officers on it, listed alphabetically. ...
A handful of prosecutors agreed to disclose only the total number of suspect police officers in their jurisdictions. Bexar County’s list has 65; Denton County has 39.
Many larger offices — including Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s — fought the newspaper’s requests to release any information, arguing to then-Attorney General Greg Abbott that their records of officers with dubious credibility should not have to be released because they are internal law enforcement communications and thus exempt from Texas open records laws. Those included Harris, Lubbock, Galveston, El Paso, Tarrant and Webb counties.
In the meantime, the Statesman should make public the records it did receive - particularly where prosecutors named names - and provide comprehensive, county by county totals of the number of officers on local DAs do-not-testify lists.
For cities which have adopted the state civil service code, the AG opinion lards on additional confusion regarding prosecutors and Brady disclosures when it comes to police misconduct. In most Texas law enforcement agencies, police disciplinary files are public records. But in about 73 agencies which have adopted the civil service code under chapter 143 of the Local Government Code, those disciplinary records are confidential, even to the local DA's office. So in those jurisdictions, prosecutors can't even know about most police misconduct. And now they've convinced the AG they don't have to disclose it to the public even when they do know an officer can't be trusted.
Here's the second part to Dexheimer and O'Rourke's investigation.