In the past two weeks, 10 Texas police departments rushed to belatedly file reports on fatal officer-involved shootings as required by a ground-breaking 2015 state law.
Law enforcement agencies are supposed to submit the reports to the Texas attorney general’s office within 30 days of an officer being shot or shooting someone else. But two weeks ago, the American-Statesman and the Houston Chronicle published stories about how those reports had not been filed by a dozen departments in accordance with state law.
Most of those agencies responded by filing belated reports. Just two reports on fatal shootings remained missing as of Thursday. All the shootings occurred since Sept. 1, 2015, when the reporting requirement took effect.
The reports were discovered to be missing through a comparison of the state’s database of shootings with media stories, a database of custodial deaths and data on officers killed in the line of duty. When contacted about missing reports earlier this month, only a few Texas agencies responded. Others simply sent in reports after receiving a phone call.
None of the missing reports involved Austin or Central Texas law enforcement agencies.
The data collected under the new law should reveal who is involved in police shootings in Texas, when they occur and the basic circumstances of the incidents. If the data set is incomplete, it’s less usable for journalists, researchers and policymakers — and less helpful in determining whether any policies need to be changed.
Harris County sheriff’s Deputy Thomas Gilliland said due to an “oversight on the investigator’s and division’s part,” a report on the shooting death of Jeray Chatham by a deputy in November 2015 hadn’t been filed under the administration of a previous sheriff. The report was sent to the state Feb. 7.
Without providing a comment, the Dallas Police Department on Feb. 8 reported to the state the shooting of Micah Xavier Johnson, who was killed last July after he ambushed officers at a protest, killing five. Johnson was shot before being killed by an exploding device.
Still missing from the database is a report on the shooting death of then-Marlin Police Chief Darrell Allen, killed Nov. 10, 2015, while working an off-duty security job at a bar in Temple, according to the Waco Tribune-Herald. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office confirmed that, if someone in law enforcement is shot while performing the duties of an officer, whether on duty or for an off-duty security detail, the report must be filed. The Police Department, which serves a rural area southeast of Waco, hasn’t responded to emails and calls about the missing report.
There is no penalty for departments that fail to report their shootings, although state Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, has filed bills seeking to change that.
ABOUT THIS PROJECT
This is the latest story in a series about officer-involved shootings in Texas. Eva Ruth Moravec, a former reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and The Associated Press, has examined the reports that must be filed on such shootings with the Texas attorney general’s office under a state law that went into effect Sept. 1, 2015. In that first year, Moravec found, 20 percent of the people who were shot were unarmed.
Learn more at www.pointofimpacttx.com, and follow the series on Twitter: @POI_TX. This project is sponsored by a grant from the Charles Koch Foundation.