Victoria County sheriff declines to release ex-deputy’s records in excessive force investigation

By Jessica Priest
Victoria Advocate
Originally published Feb. 17, 2015

The Victoria County Sheriff is refusing to release records about a former deputy under investigation for excessive use of force.

Sheriff T. Michael O’Connor said Tuesday that he must consult an attorney before complying with the Victoria Advocate’s open records request for the employment application and personnel file of former Sgt. Daniel Bettes.

O’Connor also would not release the dashboard camera video of Bettes stopping a motorist Oct. 10 because it is being used in a Texas Ranger investigation.

He said the video motivated the sheriff’s office to take action against Bettes.

“It’s evidence. The conduct which is in question is like anything else. It’s like a written statement, a witness. That video to us consummated absolutely the actions we’ve taken,” O’Connor said.

Although law enforcement often ask the Attorney General’s Office to withhold dashboard camera footage because they think it will hinder the detection and prosecution of a crime, that argument would not apply in this case, said Joe Larsen, a Houston attorney and member of the board of directors for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

The dashboard camera footage, as well as complaints that result in disciplinary action against a government employee, are part of the employee’s human resources’ file and open to the public, he said.

“Disciplinary action is not merely a letter in a file. It’s some kind of concrete action, such as a suspension, a transfer, a reduction in salary and obviously, a termination,” Larsen said.

Bettes’ employment application is also public.

“There is stuff in an employment application that might fall within the right to privacy, such as a medical condition or family issues, but, overall, no, I don’t see how that information can be withheld,” Larsen said. “It’s certainly not going to interfere with the prosecution or investigation of a crime.”

In December, O’Connor also consulted an attorney before releasing Nathanial Robinson’s personnel file to the Victoria Advocate.

Robinson worked as a jailer for a year before he became a patrol officer with the Victoria Police Department.

Robinson was fired in January after a traffic stop in which he tased a 76-year-old man came under scrutiny.

Like Bettes, Robinson has not yet been formally charged with a crime.