More Growing Pains In Williamson County

Posted in Williamson County at 3:10 pm by wcnews

As Williamson County moves from a rural county to a more urban and suburban county there will be growing pains. Whether it has to do with the location of a sewer plant, the location of power lines, or county officials abiding by the law when deputies kill someone, they will occur. In the case of the deputies it’s probably just that the county officials involved have been doing things a certain way, not intentionally disobeying the law, and now that someone is making them, they’re trying to justify their actions instead of doing what’s right.

What, by all accounts, appears to be an open-and-shut case involving two county deputies fatally shooting a suspect after a lengthy car chase, has now devolved into the Sheriff and DA of Williamson County using Rumsfeldian language to explain away why they aren’t obeying the law:

“It’s not denying the public the right to know,” Sheriff James Wilson said Wednesday. “It’s a balancing process.”

The sheriff’s office and the Texas Rangers are investigating the shooting. Both deputies were taken off patrol and placed on administrative duty after the incident.

Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley said he plans to present evidence on the shooting to a grand jury July 20, which county officials say is standard procedure when there is an officer-involved shooting.

Should the grand jury decline to indict the deputies, the information will be made public, Bradley said.

Until then, no further details on the shooting will be released, Bradley said.

“To try to preserve the integrity of the investigation and try to protect the privacy of the officers until the investigation is finished, we’ve agreed not to discuss the case or disclose those things until it is finished,” he said.

Bradley said the information should not be released because he disagrees with the way the media have handled officer-involved shootings in other Central Texas jurisdictions.

“I think, because of the way we have seen some of these shooting cases treated in the last couple years . . . I have felt like officers have not been treated fairly,” Bradley said. “It is a disservice to the officer and eventually to the public if little pieces of information are leaked out in the media.”

The preamble to the Texas Public Information Act states, “The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

This has nothing to do with balance and it is denying the public the right to know. It’s the law and they are clearly not following it. It doesn’t say that a public servant can ignore the law because of what they think and feel or because of how the media might handle it. The AAS wrote an editorial and has a follow-up piece today, Williamson County sheriff’s office files shooting report late. Again the language used by the county officials is troubling. Reading the article it sure seems that if the AAS hadn’t been looking into this issue the report probably wouldn’t be filed yet.

Williamson County’s report contains only this description: “Joe Thornton was fleeing from deputies. Thornton stopped and pulled a gun on deputies. Deputies shot Thornton. Fatally wounding him.” Sheriff James Wilson said Tuesday evening that the description is sufficient.

“It simply calls for a synopsis of what took place,” he said. “I think that pretty much described it all.”

The 30-day deadline for the sheriff’s office to file the report expired Monday. Sheriff’s officials filed the report Tuesday afternoon after being contacted by the Austin American-Statesman, which was seeking the information as part of its coverage of the incident.

Never let it be said that they didn’t do the least they could do. Well they missed the deadline and that carries a penalty but Jana Duty isn’t worried.

The statute says that “the director of the law enforcement agency of which the officer is a member or the facility in which the person was incarcerated” should file the report.

The Texas Penal Code says that failure to file the report within 30 days is a Class B misdemeanor. A citizen would have to file a complaint before any action would be considered, Duty said, but, “I don’t see too many citizens in the county wanting to prosecute our sheriff for being a day late on our report.”

Is that a dare? Maybe this is all big city stuff and they’re not used to being held to account. But sleepy little ‘ol Williamson County is wide awake. With all the people, toll roads, malls, etc., comes the need for county officials to follow the law.

We currently have no reason to suspect the deputies improperly used deadly force in this case. But with county officials doing everything they can to keep the people from the information that they have the right to know, they are behaving as if they have something to hide.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.