By Enterprise Editorial Staff
Originally published Nov. 16, 2014
As Beaumont residents watch the ongoing dispute between the city government and the Leger family, they aren’t seeing a public commitment to openness, accountability or community policing. Instead they are seeing a City Council and police department that are giving them reason, once again, to lose confidence in the once-troubled BPD.
In response to requests for information about their actions in the June 24 shooting of Stanley Leger, police have released only the minimum amount required by law, leaving growing questions about what they are hiding and why.
Last month the city asked the state attorney general to rule on whether certain records must be disclosed. But in this case, as with many other records requests, nothing prevents the city from disclosing more than the law requires. With the exception of a very few items, most exemptions to the Texas Public Information Act are discretionary.
Certain documents from the investigation might contain facts that legitimately should be withheld. But others, specifically the use of force reports filed by officers involved in the incident, must be disclosed. A use of force report is public for the express purpose of reassuring citizens that police agents are not using excessive force. That’s why it can’t be kept from public view by claims that it is a personnel or investigative document.
In the Leger case, this is exactly the information citizens need to be sure that police acted responsibly.
The city tried these stonewalling tactics before, specifically when it fought unsuccessfully to withhold other use-of-force reports sought by The Enterprise. Despite legal precedent and an AG’s ruling that the information was public, city officials tried a Hail Mary legal challenge that did nothing but waste time and cost taxpayers money.
With a record like that – and some high-profile police brutality cases – Beaumonters might think the City Council would have learned its lesson and come down on the side of more disclosure, not less. Regrettably, it has not, raising more questions about its motives instead of answering them.
The twisted official logic here is that the city must protect its police officers. Unfortunately, the city’s actions will produce a loss of confidence in the BPD that ultimately will be harmful to every one of its men and women in the field.