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Taxpayer-funded lawsuits ahead? Temple fighting public information disclosures

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The city of Temple is vowing to fight an Attorney General’s office ruling requiring the city’s release of information requested by the Temple Daily Telegram in a public records request related to a May 18, 2013, encounter with Temple police which left 15-year-old Lorenzo Martinez with a broken collar bone.

Martinez was never arrested, no charges are publicly known to have been discussed. Days later, Martinez’s mother filed a complaint and police subsequently announced an internal investigation. In June, Martinez was called for questioning before a grand jury by the office of Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza. When the teen’s lawyer and mother protested Martinez not being allowed to have a lawyer or parent present, that effort was dropped.

In October, two police officers involved were no-billed by the grand jury. As grand jury proceedings are confidential, the public has no knowledge of the case presented yet weeks later, Temple Police Chief Gary Smith wrote Elsa Martinez that his investigation was complete and found “violations of the rules and regulations of the Temple Police Department were found to have occurred” and with that, an indefinite suspension of the two officers in question, “the civil service equivalent to a termination,” was rendered. Smith further said it was “the strongest administrative action that I can take,” but noted the matter as “not fully concluded” because the officers had appealed their suspensions.

Temple attorney David Fernandez Jr. has notified the Temple Police Department and city of Temple of his plans to file a civil lawsuit in connection with Martinez’s injuries.

With no information about the grand jury review, Fernandez told the Telegram:

“I don’t know if the grand jurors spent 10 minutes on Lorenzo’s case or all day. … I do wonder what the grand jurors think about the city of Temple Police Chief’s firing of the two offending police officers and the written apology to Lorenzo and his mother,” Fernandez said Tuesday.

In that December article Fernandez also noted that while he was still gathering evidence, neither Temple police, the Texas Rangers nor the Bell County District Attorney’s office had provided any case information. To that end, Fernandez on Nov. 26, 2013, filed his own Public Information Act request for “. . . all documents, statements, offense reports, and audio/video recordings that the City of Temple is providing to each of the arbitrators/hearing examiners in each respective case, along with all of the information that the individual officer have provided to the arbitrators/hearing examiners. . . all of the documents/information/audio/video recording that the individual officers provide to the City of Temple and all documents/information/audio/video recordings that the City of Temple provides the individual officers.”

The city is also seeking an AG’s office ruling on that request. Rulings are rendered within 45 days. With filing a public information request similar in time frame and content as Fernandez, this reporter’s request will additionally be covered, per the Temple City Attorney’s office, under that ruling.

Of the Telegram’s Nov. 14, 2013, request, reporter Deborah McKeon writes:

Local taxpayers could be footing the bill for a lawsuit to be filed by the city of Temple against the Texas Attorney General’s Office contesting a ruling that the city must release certain information to the Temple Daily Telegram.

The city will first file an appeal asking the Attorney General’s office to reconsider the ruling, deputy city attorney Nanette Rodriguez said.

“We will be appealing that ruling and we will not be releasing the materials to you today,” Rodriguez said Monday morning.

Any lawsuit must first be approved by the city attorney after consulting with the City Council, city spokeswoman Shannon Gowan said.

McKeon further reports the city’s position of just wanting to “follow the law” citing that “all of the information contained in the officers’ files is confidential and cannot be released to the public.” The two officers’ appeals hearings are yet to be scheduled, as per Temple deputy city attorney Nan Rodriguez, “steps to setting a public hearing are complicated and take a long time.”

And in light of the additional pending AG rulings, it also seems perhaps more than one taxpayer-funded lawsuit could be ahead.

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