TEXAS — Following the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that claimed the lives of 19 children and two adults, Republican Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan is calling for more transparency from police.
Phelan, retweeting Austin-based journalist Tony Plohetski, called for an end to Texas’ so-called “dead suspect loophole.” Phelan's tweet was retweeted by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, signaling his support.
"More than anything, the families of the #Uvalde victims need honest answers and transparency. Period. It would be absolutely unconscionable to use the ‘dead suspect loophole’ to thwart the release of information that is so badly needed and deserved right now,” Phelan wrote in this tweet.
The “dead suspect loophole” is actually a statute that was passed by the Texas Legislature back in 1997. It was designed to protect the privacy of the wrongly accused.
However, critics say police have used the statute to deny information to families seeking answers in connection to the deaths of loved ones and journalists investigating in-custody deaths.
In the case of Uvalde, the loophole could allow police to withhold evidence, including 911 calls and surveillance video.
“The ‘dead suspect loophole’ allows law enforcement agencies to withhold details about cases that end w/o a conviction, including when a suspect dies in custody,” Phelan continued. “The statute was originally intended to protect the wrongfully accused, but it hasn’t really worked that way in practice.”
Back in 2019, Texas state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, proposed legislation that would have closed the loophole. Phelan wrote that he supported it but that the bill eventually died in the Texas Senate.
“As State Affairs chair in ’19, I heard a bill by @moodyforelpaso that would’ve ended the loophole. The bill died in calendars but eventually passed the House after being amended on to a senate bill,” Phelan wrote. “I was proud to work w/ him on the floor to make sure it was amended and passed. Unfortunately this much-needed, common sense measure joined the ranks of many other [criminal] justice reform bills by meeting its death in the Texas Senate, where they stripped the language out. I think it’s time we pass legislation to end the dead suspect loophole for good in 2023.”