|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
April 7, 2000
Ms. Kristi DeCluitt
Dear Ms. DeCluitt:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 135184.
The City of College Station (the "city") received a request for information regarding traffic safety and hazards on a portion of FM 60, the need for "No Parking" signs on that road, and requests for police assistance at a fraternity house located on the road. You indicate that you have released some of the information responsive to the request. You seek to withhold the remaining information responsive to the request under sections 552.101 and 552.108 of the Government Code.
Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure information made confidential by law or by judicial decision. It incorporates the "informer's privilege." The informer's privilege has been recognized by Texas courts. See Aguilar v. State, 444 S.W.2d 935, 937 (Tex. Crim. App. 1969). In Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53, 59 (1957), the United States Supreme Court explained the rationale that underlies the informer's privilege:
What is usually referred to as the informer's privilege is in reality the Government's privilege to withhold from disclosure the identity of persons who furnish information of violations of law to officers charged with enforcement of that law. [Citations omitted.] The purpose of the privilege is the furtherance and protection of the public interest in effective law enforcement. The privilege recognizes the obligation of citizens to communicate their knowledge of the commission of crimes to law-enforcement officials and, by preserving their anonymity, encourages them to perform that obligation. [Emphasis added.]
The "informer's privilege" aspect of section 552.101 protects the identity of persons who report violations of the law. When information does not describe conduct that violates the law, the informer's privilege does not apply. Open Records Decision Nos. 515 (1988); 191 (1978). The privilege does not, however, protect the contents of communications if they do not reveal the identity of the informant. Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. at 60. Because part of the purpose of the privilege is to prevent retaliation against informants, the privilege does not apply when the informant's identity is known to the individual who is the subject of the complaint. See Open Records Decision No. 208 (1978).
You seek to withhold, under the informer's privilege, certain responsive information identifying complainants. Having reviewed your arguments and the information at issue, we conclude that you may withhold, under the informer's privilege, the information you have marked in your Exhibit B. We understand that the remaining portions of the Exhibit B information have been released.
Section 552.108(a)(2) excepts from required public disclosure
(a) Information held by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime . . . if:
. . . .
(2) it is information that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime only in relation to an investigation that did not result in conviction or deferred adjudication[.]
You submitted responsive offense/incident reports. You advise that the status of the case investigation for one set of related reports is "inactive" and for the remaining report is "complete," that no criminal charges have been filed in these cases, and that further action will not be taken unless new evidence emerges. Based on your representations, we conclude that, except as noted below, you may withhold these reports, your Exhibits C and D, under section 552.108(a)(2).
Please note that section 552.108 does not except from required public disclosure "basic information about an arrested person, an arrest, or a crime." Gov't Code § 552.108(c). Because you have raised no other exceptions to disclosure of the reports, the city must release these types of information in accordance with 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).
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).
If the governmental body, the requestor, or any other person has questions or comments about this ruling, they may contact our office. 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.
Ref: ID# 135184
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Ms. Judith L. Graef
POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US