|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
May 8, 2000
Mr. Leonard W. Peck, Jr.
Dear Mr. Peck:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under the Public Information Act, chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 135025.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (the "department") received a request for access to a video tape of an altercation at the department's Coffield Unit that occurred on or about June 17, 1999, as well as the names, addresses, and numbers of the inmates involved in the incident. We assume that you have released the latter information. You claim that the videotape is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.107 and 552.131 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
Section 552.301 of the Government Code requires a governmental body to release requested information or to request a decision from the Attorney General within 10 business days of receiving a request for information the governmental body wishes to withhold. In your brief, you state that you received this request on February 28, 2000, "but there seems to have been earlier correspondence about the same matter." We note that the requestor asserts that he sent a request by certified mail, return receipt requested (#Z385656403), and received a letter from Warden R.A. Garcia acknowledging receipt of his request on February 2, 2000. Assuming this is true, the department has failed to meet the 10 business day deadline imposed by section 552.301(b). When a governmental body fails to request a decision within 10 business days of receiving a request for information, the information at issue is presumed public. Gov't Code § 552.302; Hancock v. State Bd. of Ins., 797 S.W.2d 379 (Tex. App.--Austin 1990, no writ); City of Houston v. Houston Chronicle Publ'g Co., 673 S.W.2d 316, 323 (Tex. App.--Houston [1st Dist.] 1984, no writ); Open Records Decision No. 319 (1982). The governmental body must show a compelling interest to withhold the information to overcome this presumption. Open Records Decision No. 319 (1982). The application of section 552.131 is such a compelling reason.
Section 552.131 of the Government Code excepts from disclosure information obtained or maintained by the department which relates to an inmate who is confined in a facility operated by or under contract with the department. We note, however, that basic information regarding an incident involving the use of force must be released in accordance with section 552.029(8) of the Government Code. This office has determined that basic information includes the time and place of the incident, names of inmates and department officials directly involved in the incident, a brief narrative of the incident, a brief description of any injuries sustained, and information regarding criminal charges or disciplinary actions filed as a result of the incident. You state that you have released to the requestor information made public by section 552.029(8). Therefore, the department must withhold the requested videotape from disclosure under section 552.131. Because section 552.131 is dispositive, we do not address your other claimed exceptions.
This letter ruling is limited to the particular records at issue in this request and limited to the facts as presented to us; therefore, this ruling must not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records or any other circumstances.
This ruling triggers important deadlines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the governmental body and of the requestor. For example, governmental bodies are prohibited from asking the attorney general to reconsider this ruling. Gov't Code § 552.301(f). If the governmental body wants to challenge this ruling, the governmental body must appeal by filing suit in Travis County within 30 calendar days. Id. § 552.324(b). In order to get the full benefit of such an appeal, the governmental body must file suit within 10 calendar days. Id. § 552.353(b)(3), (c). If the governmental body does not appeal this ruling and the governmental body does not comply with it, then both the requestor and the attorney general have the right to file suit against the governmental body to enforce this ruling. Id. § 552.321(a).
If this ruling requires the governmental body to release all or part of the requested information, the governmental body is responsible for taking the next step. Based on the statute, the attorney general expects that, within 10 calendar days of this ruling, the governmental body will do one of the following three things: 1) release the public records; 2) notify the requestor of the exact day, time, and place that copies of the records will be provided or that the records can be inspected; or 3) notify the requestor of the governmental body's intent to challenge this letter ruling in court. If the governmental body fails to do one of these three things within 10 calendar days of this ruling, then the requestor should report that failure to the attorney general's Open Government Hotline, toll free, at 877/673-6839. The requestor may also file a complaint with the district or county attorney. Id. § 552.3215(e).
If this ruling requires or permits the governmental body to withhold all or some of the requested information, the requestor can appeal that decision by suing the governmental body. Id. § 552.321(a); Texas Department of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408, 411 (Tex. App.-Austin 1992, no writ).
If the governmental body, the requestor, or any other person has questions or comments about this ruling, they may contact our office. Although there is no statutory deadline for contacting us, the attorney general prefers to receive any comments within 10 calendar days of the date of this ruling.
Ref: ID# 135025
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Julio Navarro
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US