|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
October 4, 2000
Mr. Galen Ray Sumrow
Dear Mr. Sumrow:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under the Public Information Act (the "Act"), chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 139957.
The Rockwell County Criminal District Attorney (the "district attorney") and the Rockwell County Sheriff's Department (the "sheriff") received a request for information relating to the arrest of a named individual. The requestor also seeks the disclosure of information relating to a named sheriff's officer and other officers who investigated the subject arrest. Both the district attorney and the sheriff claim that the information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.102 and 552.108 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted representative sample of the information requested.(1)
Initially, we note that some of the submitted information is public information that is not excepted from required public disclosure under the Act. We specifically refer you to section 552.022 of the Government Code, which provides in pertinent part:
(a) Without limiting the amount or kind of information that is public information under this chapter, the following categories of information are public information and not excepted from required disclosure under this chapter unless they are expressly confidential under other law:
. . .
(2) the name, sex, ethnicity, salary, title, and dates of employment of each employee and officer of a governmental body;
. . .
Gov't Code § 552.022(a)(2), (17) (emphasis added). In the instant case, the requestor is seeking the disclosure of information relating to certain sheriff's officers; specifically, he requests the dates of employment, names of supervisors, divisions to which the officers are assigned, ethnicity, titles, and salaries of several specified officers. We find that the requestor is seeking information relating to these officers that is specifically made public by section 552.022(a)(2). We also note some of the documents submitted for our review include a warrant and arrest warrant affidavit that have been filed with a court. Public court documents are specifically made public by section 552.022(a)(17). Moreover, documents filed with a court are generally considered public. Star-Telegram, Inc. v. Walker, 834 S.W.2d 54 (Tex. 1992). Additionally, neither sections 552.102 nor 552.108 except this information from required public disclosure. See Open Records Decision Nos. 455 (1987), 342 (1982), 139 (1976), and 132 (1976). As such, it must be released to the requestor. The district attorney states that his office does not maintain records pertaining to sheriff's office employees. The Act does not require a governmental body to prepare new information in response to a request. Open Records Decision Nos. 452 at 2-3 (1986), 342 at 3 (1982). The sheriff, however, does maintain this type of information. Therefore, the sheriff must release the personnel information to the requestor.
Section 552.108 of the Government Code states that information held by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime is excepted from required public disclosure "if release of the information would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime." Gov't Code § 552.108(a)(1). Generally, a governmental body claiming an exception under section 552.108 must reasonably explain, if the information does not supply the explanation on its face, how and why section 552.108 is applicable. See Gov't Code §§ 552.108, .301(e)(1)(A); see also Ex parte Pruitt, 551 S.W.2d 706 (Tex. 1977). You explain that the requested documents relate to a case that is currently being prepared for prosecution. Because the case is pending, we believe that the release of the information would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime. Thus, you may withhold most of the information under section 552.108(a)(1).
However, section 552.108 is inapplicable to basic information about an arrested person, an arrest, or a crime. Gov't Code § 552.108(c). We believe such basic information refers to the information held to be public in Houston Chronicle Publishing Co. 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). Thus, you must release the basic front page offense and arrest information. We note that you have the discretion to release all or part of the remaining information that is not otherwise confidential by law. Gov't Code § 552.007.
In summary, the district attorney and sheriff may withhold most of the information related to the specified arrest under section 552.108(a)(1). Basic information must be released to the requestor under section 552.108(c). Documents that have been filed in a public court must also be released. The sheriff must release the requested personnel information to the requestor.
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).
Please remember that under the Act the release of information triggers certain procedures for costs and charges to the requestor. If records are released in compliance with this ruling, be sure that all charges for the information are at or below the legal amounts. Questions or complaints about over-charging must be directed to the General Services Commission at 512/475-2497
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# 139957
Encl: Submitted documents
cc: Ms. Judy Thomason
Mr. Allan Stanglin
1. In reaching our conclusion here, we assume that the "representative sample" of records submitted to this office is truly representative of the requested records as a whole. See Open Records Decision Nos. 499 (1988), 497 (1988). This open records letter does not reach, and therefore does not authorize the withholding of, any other requested records to the extent that those records contain substantially different types of information than that submitted to this office.
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