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March 13, 2000

Mr. Randall L. Patterson
City Attorney
City of Brenham
P.O. Box 1059
Brenham, Texas 77834-1059

OR2000-0996

Dear Mr. Patterson:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 133045.

The Brenham Police Department (the "department") received a request for certain department investigatory files. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.103, 552.107, and 552.108 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and have reviewed the submitted information.

We note at the outset that the requestor is an individual who is currently incarcerated. Section 552.028 of the Government Code generally limits a governmental body's obligation to respond public information requests from incarcerated individuals. Section 552.028 of the Government Code provides:

(a) A governmental body is not required to accept or comply with a request for information from:

(1) an individual who is imprisoned or confined in a correctional facility; or

  • an agent of that individual, other than that individual's attorney when the attorney is requesting information that is subject to disclosure under this chapter.
  • This section does not prohibit a governmental body from disclosing to an individual described by Subsection (a)(1), or that individual's agent, information held by the governmental body pertaining to that individual.
  • Since the department has sought a decision from our office as to whether the requested information is excepted from disclosure under the Public Information Act, we assume that the department has elected to comply with the request pursuant to section 552.028(b) of the Government Code.

    We additionally note that the submitted information contains a warrant of arrest which appears to have been filed with a court. Documents filed with a court are generally considered public and must be released. Gov't Code 552.022(a)(17); Star-Telegram, Inc. v. Walker, 834 S.W.2d 54, 57 (Tex. 1992). If the warrant of arrest was filed with a court, then it must be released to the requestor.

    You claim that the submitted information is excepted from disclosure pursuant to section 552.108 of the Government Code. Section 552.108 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). You inform us that the requested information pertains to a pending prosecution. We therefore believe that the release of the information at this time "would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime." See 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) (court delineates law enforcement interests present in active cases).

    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. See Open Records Decision No. 127 (1976). Thus, with the exception of the basic front page offense and arrest information, and the information filed with a court, the department may withhold the requested information from disclosure based on section 552.108(a)(1).(1)

    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.

    Sincerely,

    Carla Gay Dickson
    Assistant Attorney General
    Open Records Division

    CGD/ch

    Ref: ID# 133045

    Encl. Submitted documents

    cc: Mr. Frank Payton
    295 I.H. 45
    Holiday Unit
    Huntsville, Texas 77340
    (w/o enclosures)


     

    Footnotes

    1. Because section 552.108 is dispositive, we do not address the other exceptions you have raised.
     

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