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July 6, 2000

Mr. James L. Hall
Assistant General Counsel
Texas Department of Criminal Justice
P.O. Box 4004
Huntsville, Texas 77342

OR2000-2529

Dear Mr. Hall:

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# 136705.

The Department of Criminal Justice (the "department") received a request for information relating to an incident of use of force against an inmate. You have submitted responsive documents which you explain consist of a major use of force report and documents relating to the internal administrative investigation of that use of force.(1) You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.107, 552.117, and 552.131 of the Government Code.

Section 552.131 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. However, basic information regarding an incident involving the use of force must be released in accordance with section 552.029(8) of the Government Code. Basic information regarding use of force 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. Having reviewed your arguments and the information at issue, we conclude that, except for basic information under section 552.029(8), which must be released, you must withhold a portion of the submitted information pursuant to section 552.131.

You also assert that the information is excepted from disclosure by sections 552.101 and 552.107(2) in conjunction with the decision in Ruiz v. Estelle, 503 F. Supp. 1265 (S.D. Tex. 1980), aff'd in part and vacated in part, 679 F.2d 1115 (5th Cir.), amended in part, 688 F.2d 266 (5th Cir. 1982). Section 552.107(2) states that information is excepted from required public disclosure if "a court by order has prohibited disclosure of the information." The Ruiz decision restricted the dissemination of "sensitive information" regarding inmates. The Ruiz final judgment, entered December 11, 1992, gave the Board of Criminal Justice (the "Board") authority to define the term "sensitive information." The Board met on January 21, 2000, and decided that "the term 'Sensitive Information' shall include all information regarding TDCJ-ID offenders not required to be disclosed pursuant to Section 552.029, Government Code." Thus, information in the categories delineated in section 552.029 of the Government Code is not excepted from required public disclosure by section 552.107(2) in conjunction with the Ruiz court order. Therefore, the documents that we have identified as containing no information about an inmate, or that contain inmate information that is made public under section 552.029, are not excepted from disclosure by sections 552.101, 552.107, or 552.131. We therefore conclude that these documents, which we have marked, must be released.

However, as to the documents that we determine are not excepted from required disclosure, we note that some of them contain information that must be withheld under section 552.117 of the Government Code. In relevant part, this provision states:

Information is excepted from the [public disclosure] requirements of Section 552.021 if it is information that relates to the home address, home telephone number, or social security number, or that reveals whether the following person has family members:

. . .

(3) an employee of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice . . . .

We have marked the relevant information excepted from public disclosure under section 552.117(3). You must redact this information from the documents prior to their release.

In summary, you must withhold the documents subject to section 552.131, except you must release the basic information in these documents, as described above. The remaining documents are not excepted from required disclosure and must be released, but you must first redact the section 552.117 information that we have marked.

This letter ruling is limited to the particular records at issue in this request and 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.

Sincerely,

Julie Reagan Watson
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

JRW/pr

Ref: ID# 136705

Encl. Marked documents

cc: Mr. James Alexander
2110 Williston Street
Pampa, Texas 79065
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

1. We note that the requestor has also asked for a letter of recommendation written for a specified officer. You have not submitted this document for our review or claimed an exception to its disclosure. Therefore, we assume that you have released the information. If you have not yet released this document, you must do so at this time. See Gov't Code 552.301, 552.302.
 

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