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November 21, 2000

Mr. Kollin Shadle
Assistant District Attorney
Taylor County Courthouse
300 Oak
Abilene, Texas 79602-1577

OR2000-4479

Dear Mr. Shadle:

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# 141612.

The Taylor County Sheriff (the "sheriff") received two requests for records relating to a pipeline explosion. The first requestor seeks access to audio tape recordings and mobile data terminal transmissions. The second requestor seeks a report of the incident. You inform us that as the sheriff's vehicles are not equipped with mobile data terminals, the sheriff has no responsive information of that kind. You have submitted, as "representative examples" of responsive information held by the sheriff, a portion of the initial transcriptions of the audio tapes. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.108 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and have reviewed the information you submitted.(1)

Section 552.108 of the Government Code, the "law enforcement exception," provides in relevant part that "[i]nformation held by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime is excepted from [required public disclosure] if release of the information would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime[.]" Gov't Code 552.108(a)(1). A governmental body claiming an exception to disclosure under section 552.108 must reasonably explain, if the responsive information does not do so on its face, how and why section 552.108 is applicable. See Ex parte Pruitt, 551 S.W.2d 706 (Tex. 1977); Open Records Decision No. 434 at 2-3 (1986). In this instance, you inform us that the requested information relates to an ongoing criminal investigation. Based on your representations and our review of the submitted information, we find that its release would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime. See Gov't Code 552.108(a)(1); Houston Chronicle Publ'g Co. v. City of Houston, 531 S.W.2d 177 (Tex. Civ. App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 1975), writ ref'd n.r.e. per curiam, 536 S.W.2d 559 (Tex. 1976) (court delineates law enforcement interests that are present in active cases). Therefore, we conclude that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.108(a)(1).

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).

Please remember that under the Act the release of information triggers certain procedures for costs and charges to the requestor. If records are released in compliance with this ruling, be sure that all charges for the information are at or below the legal amounts. Questions or complaints about over-charging must be directed to the General Services Commission at 512/475-2497.

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,


James W. Morris, III
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

JWM/er

Ref: ID# 141612

Encl. Submitted documents

cc: Mr. George S. Bishop
Attorney at Law
401 Cypress, Suite 210
Abilene, Texas 79601
(w/o enclosures)

Ms. Edna Peters
Public Records Research
7735 High Village Drive
Houston, Texas 77095
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

1. This letter ruling assumes that the representative sample of information you submitted is truly representative of the requested information as a whole. This letter ruling neither reaches nor authorizes the sheriff to withhold any requested information that is substantially different from the submitted information. See Gov't Code 552.301(e)(1)(D); Open Records Decision Nos. 499 at 6 (1988), 497 at 4 (1988).
 

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