TEXAS — An attorney for the student editor at BrookhavenCollege asked Texas’ attorney general Wednesday to order the immediate andcomplete release of campus police incident reports that were withheld from thestudent newspaper for several weeks, then belatedly released in incompleteform.
Brookhaven Courier Editor-in-Chief Kristin McKenzie said sherequested records August 3 relating to three incidents at the two-year publiccollege in Farmers Branch, Texas. Two of the events involved indecent exposureand another involved the assault of a librarian on campus.
McKenzie initially sought the records from the Brookhaven campus policedepartment but was referred to the Robert Young, the legal counsel forBrookhaven. She said Young has been making it difficult for her to do her jobbecause he has been upholding the school’s position in redacting some ofthe information from public records.
Before releasing any records, a paralegal in Young’s office calledMcKenzie to ask for written permission to redact all names and witness accountsfrom one of the records. McKenzie said she refused to comply.
McKenzie said she found it “odd” that she was asked forpermission to redact information.
A week after making the initial records request, McKenzie received one ofthe incident reports she had requested and said it contained all the necessaryinformation. The district refused to release the other two, however.
The school, in defense of its position, claimed exemptions to the TexasPublic Information Act in its letter to the attorney general. The district legaloffice alleged that the information was exempt from disclosure because, amongother reasons, the indecent exposure incidents were “sex-relatedoffenses,” and the aggravated assault was an open investigation.
After asking Young’s office to cite specific language in the TexasPublic Information Act prohibiting the release of the requested information,McKenzie received a letter stating that the district had submitted the requestfor review by the Texas attorney general for an opinion on whether or not therecords are considered public. Twelve days later, she received the remaining tworecords, both of which were heavily redacted and, according to her, were missingessential information.
Under Texas law, the attorney general has 45 days to respond to thedistrict’s request for an opinion, but in some circumstances that periodcan be extended, said Jim Hemphill of the Graves, Dougherty, Hearon and Moodylaw firm, a volunteer attorney working with McKenzie.
Hemphill sent a letter Wednesday to the Texas attorney general, listingfour main complaints with Brookhaven’s handling of the situation, andasking for a response to help establish precedent to prevent events like thisoccurring in the future.
The way the school handled McKenzie’s request was not in accordancewith the Texas Public Information Act because the college took too long torespond to her request, Hemphill said. He said the college further breached theact by requiring McKenzie to sign an “indemnification and hold harmlessagreement,” making her liable for any damages caused by the release of theinformation.
“I have not seen this indemnification and hold harmless agreementwhich they required McKenzie to sign before,” Hemphill said.”It’s absolutely contrary to the Public InformationAct.”
Additionally, the college failed to provide McKenzie with a copy of theletter they sent to the attorney general, and it claimed exemptions to thePublic Information Act which were overly broad, Hemphill said.
“I’m not speculating on their motive,” Hemphill said.”Apparently, though, they made a conscious decision they don’t wantthe public to see this information that has been redacted.”
McKenzie said she does not understand why the situation has escalated tothis point.
“It just makes them look bad,” McKenzie said. “It doesmake me wonder if there is something they don’t want me to see in this[report].”
After multiple attempts at contact, no comment was given by the Brookhavenlegal counsel’s office at the time of publication.