In 2013, an Austin police officer shot 70-year-old John Schaefer twice in the chest, killing him on his own porch.
Schaefer had called 911 to report that he'd shot a neighbor's pit bull after the dog attacked him in his backyard. The officer arrived at Schaefer's house and positioned himself by the door without announcing himself. When Schaefer stepped outside, with a holstered handgun, the officer grabbed him in an attempt to disarm him. Schaefer pulled away, drew the gun, and pointed it at the cop, at which point the officer shot and killed him, according to the police narrative of events.
In the immediate aftermath, Schaefer's family and friends were incredulous, a lawyer for the Schaefer family, Robby Alden, told local news outlets. They couldn't believe Schaefer, a gun safety instructor and range supervisor, would draw on a police officer.
A grand jury cleared the officer of criminal wrongdoing, but a month later, Alden filed a public records request to the Travis County District Attorney's Office for internal records concerning the shooting. What the Schaefers discovered, as many other Texans have, is that when someone dies in police custody in the state, it's nearly impossible to get anything besides the most basic incident reports.
Citing a controversial Texas public record statute that shields the release of police records in cases that didn't result in a conviction, the Austin Police Department denied the request. The Texas Office of the Attorney General, which reviews all such denials, upheld the rejection.
This statute is known by critics as the "dead suspect loophole," and it has been employed repeatedly by the state to prevent families, journalists, and others from accessing records concerning police shootings and jail deaths.
The loophole not only prevents loved ones from accessing information about how family members died, it protects police from scrutiny, forcing those seeking to pursue legal action against the police to navigate bureaucratic hurdles that can take years to overcome.