Fort Worth Sues to Keep Police Use of Force Reports Confidential

The city of Fort Worth is suing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton after he ordered the city to release reports on officers’ use of force.

The unusual case started when an investigative reporter for NBC station KXAN in Austin filed an open records request in April seeking police documents on complaints involving use of force incidents since January 2015.

The city declined to produce the records and appealed to the Attorney General’s office, which issued an opinion in July saying the information should be made public.

The city then filed a lawsuit against Paxton’s office in Travis County District Court last month challenging the decision.

"It should not be secret," said Bob Ray Sanders, co-chair of the city's Task Force on Race and Culture, which was formed following complaints about excessive force. "When you have a license to kill, and you are working for the public, and the public complains about it, the public has a right to know.."

City attorneys claim releasing the records would violate state law in cases in which officers were investigated but not disciplined. Such records are kept in what’s known as a “G file” and not generally released as part of officers’ personnel files.

Deputy City Attorney Gerald Pruitt said the law is clear.

"It provides for confidentiality of these records," he said. "If there's a complaint and they don't result in discipline, we have to maintain secrecy, essentially, of these files."

The city is confident in its case, Pruitt said. 

"We don't sue the AG very often," he said. "We almost always win these cases."

Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, argued such records should be made public.

“When use of force is used, it’s important for the public to have the information to hold public officials accountable,” she said. “In some cases, it may be justified. In other cases, not. But if use of force reports are not released, there’s no way for citizens to know.”

The KXAN reporter who filed the records request, Jody Barr, did not return a call seeking comment.

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Original Petition for Decl Judgment & Req for Prot Order 8 3 18 (Text)
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