May 21, 2003
Public Citizen Calls for Investigation Into DPS Document Destruction
AUSTIN – Public Citizen today called for an investigation into the Texas Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) reported destruction of records about the agency’s search for Democratic lawmakers who walked out of the Capitol last week.
Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, called for the Texas Attorney General to conduct an inquiry because that office has jurisdiction over the state records retention act. If that office won’t investigate, the Travis County District Attorney should do so, Smith said. Barring that, a “special court of inquiry” – a select panel of Travis County District Judges – should investigate. Smith also sharply criticized the Texas Speaker of the House for using the federal government for political purposes, and the federal government for agreeing to do it.
“It’s profoundly disturbing that the Department of Public Safety would misuse a federal agency and then destroy records about it,” Smith said. “The revelation about the swift destruction of key records in what the department itself admits may be a violation of criminal law requires an immediate and thorough public investigation.”
On May 11, more than 50 Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives walked out of the Capitol to break a quorum and thereby prevent a vote on a congressional redistricting bill that favored Republicans. House Speaker Tom Craddick ordered the DPS to capture the boycotting lawmakers and return them to Austin.
According to news reports, the DPS called upon an obscure arm of the Department of Homeland Security to track a plane owned by former House Speaker Pete Laney that was rumored to be flying the lawmakers to Oklahoma.
Today, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that on May 14, while the legislators were still in Oklahoma, the DPS issued an order to destroy documents relating to the department’s efforts to bring the legislators back to Austin. The DPS said that the agency can keep such information only if there is a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. But the destruction of the records could obscure any inquiry into the propriety of the Department of Homeland Security’s involvement in Texas partisan politics.
“The speed with which the department destroyed the records, and the fact that officials ordered them destroyed, raises a host of questions,” Smith said. “Investigators should get answers.”