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August 11, 1999

Ms. Kristi LaRoe
Assistant District Attorney
Tarrant County
Justice Center
401 W. Belknap
Fort Worth, Texas 76196-0201

OR99-2276

Dear Ms. LaRoe:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 128198.

The Tarrant County Sheriff's Department (the "department") received a request for information concerning an incident in which a department deputy was accused of, but not charged with, a criminal offense. You claim that "the identities and preliminary statements of witnesses . . . and the affidavit supporting the arrest warrant" are excepted from disclosure by sections 552.101 and 552.108 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and have reviewed the documents at issue.

Section 552.108 of the Government Code reads as follows:

(a) Information held by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021 if:

(1) release of the information would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime;

(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; or

(3) it is information that:

(A) is prepared by an attorney representing the state in anticipation of or in the course of preparing for criminal litigation;

(B) reflects the mental impressions or legal reasoning of an attorney representing the state.

(b) An internal record or notation of a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that is maintained for internal use in matters relating to law enforcement or prosecution is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021 if:

(1) release of the internal record or notation would interfere with law enforcement or prosecution;

(2) the internal record or notation relates to law enforcement only in relation to an investigation that did not result in conviction or deferred adjudication; or

(3) the internal record or notation:

(A) is prepared by an attorney representing the state in anticipation of or in the course of preparing for criminal litigation;

(B) reflects the mental impressions or legal reasoning of an attorney representing the state.

(c) This section does not except from the requirements of Section 552.021 information that is basic information about an arrested person, an arrest, or a crime.

Gov't Code 552.108. 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 the release of the requested information would interfere with law enforcement. See Gov't Code 552.108(a)(1), (b)(1), .301(b)(1); see also Ex parte Pruitt, 551 S.W.2d 706 (Tex. 1977). You explain that the requested information concerns an active investigation. Because you have shown that the release of the requested information would interfere with the detection, investigation or prosecution of crime, we conclude that most of the yellow highlighted information may be withheld under section 552.108(a)(1). See Open Records Decision No. 216 (1978).

We note, however, that information normally found on the front page of an offense report is generally considered public. Houston Chronicle Publ'g 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); Open Records Decision No. 127 (1976). Thus, you must release the types of information that are considered to be front page offense report information, even if this information is not actually located on the front page of the offense report. Gov't Code 552.108(c); see Open Records Decision No. 127 (1976) (summarizing the types of information deemed public by Houston Chronicle). You state that you have released some front page offense report information.

However, you claim that several marked portions of what would otherwise be considered front page offense report information are protected by section 552.101, which excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision."

You claim that the name, address, telephone number and all identifying information about the complainants of the report should be withheld. You seek to withhold the identities of the complainants because these persons are informers. See Aguilar v. State, 444 S.W.2d 935, 937 (Tex. Crim. App. 1969); Open Records Decision Nos. 582 (1990), 515 (1988). The informer's privilege does not, however, categorically protect from release the identification and description of a complainant, which is front page offense report information generally considered public by Houston Chronicle. See Gov't Code 552.108(c); Houston Chronicle Publ'g Co. v. City of Houston, 531 S.W.2d 177, 187 (Tex. Civ. App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 1975), writ ref'd n.r.e. per curiam, 536 S.W.2d 559 (Tex. 1976); Open Records Decision No. 127 (1976). The identity of a complainant, whether an "informant" or not, may only be withheld upon a showing that special circumstances exist.

We have addressed several special situations in which front page offense report information may be withheld from disclosure. For example, in Open Records Decision No. 366 (1983), this office agreed that the statutory predecessor to section 552.108 protected from disclosure information about an ongoing undercover narcotics operation, even though some of the information at issue was front page information contained in an arrest report. The police department explained how release of certain details would interfere with the undercover operation, which was ongoing and was expected to culminate in more arrests. Open Records Decision No. 366 (1983), see Open Records Decision No. 333 at 2 (1982), cf. Open Records Decision Nos. 393 (1983) (identifying information concerning victims of sexual assault), 339 (1982), 169 at 6-7 (1977), 123 (1976).

Based upon the information provided to this office, we do not believe that you have shown special circumstances sufficient to overcome the presumption of public access to the complainants' identities. Consequently, we conclude that the department must release the relevant front-page offense report information. We note that the complainants' telephone numbers and addresses are generally not front page offense report information.

Lastly, if the arrest warrant has been filed with a court, it must be released. Information filed with a court is generally a matter of public record and may not be withheld from public disclosure. See Star-Telegram, Inc. v. Walker, 834 S.W.2d 54, 57-58 (Tex. 1992).

We are resolving this matter with an informal letter ruling rather than with a published open records decision. This ruling is limited to the particular records at issue under the facts presented to us in this request and should not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records. If you have questions about this ruling, please contact our office.

Sincerely,

Sue M. Lee
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

SML/nc

Ref: ID# 128198

Encl: Submitted documents

cc: Ms. Veronica Alaniz
Dallas Morning News
500 Main Street
Fort Worth, Texas 76102
(w/o enclosures)

Mr. Richard W. Carter
Attorney at Law
P.O. Box 614
Arlington, Texas 76004-0614
(w/o enclosures)


 

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