A law firm working for the Uvalde school district claims it has been unable to obtain text messages and other communications sent by former school district police chief Pete Arredondo in the week following the May 24 shooting in Uvalde, in which police under Arredondo’s command stood by and did nothing for more than an hour. Nineteen children and two adults were murdered.
On July 6, Motherboard filed a request under the Texas Public Information Act seeking “Copies of all emails, text messages, and direct messages on messaging platforms including but not limited to WhatsApp, Signal, Wire, Telegram, Instagram, and Facebook sent to or from Pete Arredondo between May 24, 2022 and July 1, 2022, with attachments provided as pdf files.”
In a letter sent to the Texas attorney general last week, which it also provided to Motherboard, Walsh Gallegos, the law firm representing the school district, made several arguments about why it shouldn’t have to release the requested records. In the course of doing so, it noted that it only has some of them.
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“[T]he District,” a lawyer for the firm wrote, “made reasonable efforts to obtain public information from temporary custodians and received portions of the requested information on August 23, 2022 and August 24, 2022.”
While the “temporary custodians” of the records who didn’t turn them over in full aren’t named, given the definition of the term under Texas law this is almost certainly a reference to Arredondo. (“‘Temporary custodian,’” according to the relevant law, “means an officer or employee of a governmental body who, in the transaction of official business, creates or receives public information that the officer or employee has not provided to the officer for public information of the governmental body or the officer's agent.”) It’s unclear what portions the district didn’t receive; what percentage of the relevant records it did receive; and what actions, if any, it’s taken to obtain the portions it didn’t, which belong to the public.
Neither Walsh Gallegos nor Arredondo’s lawyer responded to multiple requests for comment.
Despite the school district apparently not even having all of the records in question, Walsh Gallegos argued against their release on the grounds that they’re incredibly important. The FBI, the Texas Department of Safety, and the local district attorney, the firm wrote, have all requested that the information not be released, as doing so could interfere with criminal probes. The firm also argued that it doesn’t have to release the records because they could relate to a “tactical plan” or be “embarrassing.”
Walsh Gallegos, which has previously asserted that the district doesn’t have video footage from the day of the shooting that has been viewed by millions of people and made claims suggesting it either doesn’t understand Texas law or the English language, redacted large portions of its arguments, making it impossible to tell how sound they are or even, in some cases, what they are.
Kelley Shannon of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas told Motherboard that in response to various agencies’ unwillingness to release information about the Uvalde shooting, the group is proposing fixes to Texas transparency laws to make them more enforceable.