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Office of the ATTORNEY GENERAL
GREG ABBOTT
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December 18, 2002

Mr. Gordon Bowman
Assistant County Attorney
Travis County
P.O. Box 1748
Austin, Texas 78767

OR2002-7264

Dear Mr. Bowman:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 173844.

The Travis County Sheriff's Office (the "sheriff's office") received a request for report number 02-8256. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.103, 552.108, and 552.130 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information.

Section 552.101 of the Government Code excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." This section encompasses information protected by other statutes. Section 261.201(a) of the Family Code provides as follows:

(a) The following information is confidential, is not subject to public release under Chapter 552, Government Code, and may be disclosed only for purposes consistent with this code and applicable federal or state law or under rules adopted by an investigating agency:

(1) a report of alleged or suspected abuse or neglect made under this chapter and the identity of the person making the report; and

(2) except as otherwise provided in this section, the files, reports, records, communications, and working papers used or developed in an investigation under this chapter or in providing services as a result of an investigation.

Section 261.201 makes information regarding an investigation of suspected child abuse or neglect confidential. You argue that portions of the submitted information are confidential under section 261.201 of the Family Code and highlight information in the submitted report that indicates that one of the listed victims was sixteen years of age at the time of the incident. The submitted information, however, does not pertain to an investigation of suspected child abuse or neglect. Rather, the information at issue pertains to an investigation of an alleged fight involving several young adults and juveniles. Thus, we conclude that the submitted information is not confidential under section 261.201 of the Family Code.

Section 552.101 also encompasses section 58.007 of the Family Code. Juvenile law enforcement records relating to conduct that occurred on or after September 1, 1997 are confidential under section 58.007. However, section 58.007 is inapplicable here because the incident at issue does not involve a suspect or offender who is a "child" as defined by section 51.02 of the Family Code. A "child" is a person who is:

(A) ten years of age or older and under 17 years of age; or

(B) seventeen years of age or older and under 18 years of age who is alleged or found to have engaged in delinquent conduct or conduct indicating a need for supervision as a result of acts committed before becoming 17 years of age.

Fam. Code 51.02(1). Section 58.007 does not apply where the information in question involves only a juvenile complainant or witness and not a juvenile suspect or offender. See Fam. Code 51.04(a) (Title 3 covers cases involving delinquent conduct or conduct indicating need for supervision engaged in by child). Here, while one of the victims and several of the witnesses were juveniles at the time of the incident, the suspects were not juveniles at the time of the incident. Therefore, the sheriff's office may not withhold the requested information under section 58.007 of the Family Code.

You also contend that the submitted information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.108 of the Government Code. Section 552.108 of the Government Code states that information 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). You inform us that the requested information pertains to a pending case. We therefore believe that the release of the information "would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime." Id.

However, section 552.108 does not except basic information about an arrested person, an arrest, or a crime. Gov't Code 552.108(c). We believe such basic information refers to the information held to be public in Houston Chronicle Publishing Company 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), which includes a detailed description of the offense. Thus, with the exception of the basic offense and arrest information, the sheriff's office may withhold the requested information from disclosure based on section 552.108(a)(1).(1) We note that the sheriff's office has the discretion to release all or part of the remaining information that is not otherwise confidential by law. Gov't Code 552.007.

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 Hadassah Schloss at the Texas Building and Procurement 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. We note that a third party may challenge this ruling by filing suit seeking to withhold information from a requestor. Gov't Code 552.325. 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,

Karen A. Eckerle
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division
KAE/sdk
Ref: ID# 173844
Enc: Submitted documents

c: Ms. Sara Wright
Slack & Davis, L.L.P.
8911 North Capital of Texas Highway, Suite 2110
Austin, Texas 78759
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

1. As we are able to make this determination, we need not address your remaining arguments against disclosure, except to note that, generally, basic information may not be withheld from public disclosure under section 552.103. Open Records Decision No. 597 (1991).
 

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