Civil rights group complains of exorbitant charging for records at the Bexar County jail
Published: March 6, 2013
It's unfathomable that booking and staffing information wouldn't be readily accessible at the Bexar County jail just to perform core functions, McGiverin asserts (how else could authorities magistrate arrestees, release inmates on bond, or compile daily jail-activity lists?). Still, it's unclear if the office's large cost estimate for "programming" was a flat-out lie, as the TCRP and Claitor insist, or sign of a woefully antiquated records-keeping system at the jail.
"The way they keep records … It has not been great, I can tell you that," said Laura Jesse, Bexar County's public information officer. Jesse says that in the past she's had to play middleman between the sheriff's office and media outlets or families seeking records from the jail.
When the Current first began requesting records on inmates who died in custody in 2011, we faced months of silence waiting for the jail to respond to Attorney General rulings ordering the release of information.
Express-News reporter Nolan Hicks similarly waited months for staffing records from the department, Jesse says; Hicks' eventual story showed how Ortiz's failure to fill vacancies exacerbated the jail's staffing woes. Much of the staffing records Hicks requested were hand-written in spiral-bound notebooks, Jesse says.
"Seriously, spiral-bound notebooks," she said. "I'm not kidding."
Sheriff Susan Pamerleau continues to say she's been left to deal with the consequences of years of mismanagement under Ortiz, most notably financial and staffing problems. When asked about Claitor's public records spat, sheriff's spokesman Paul Berry echoed Pamerleau's statements at a press conference soon after her January 1 swearing-in. "She's the sheriff now," he said. "What happened is in the past."
By the end of January, with Claitor's records request still unresolved under the new administration, McGiverin with the TCRP sent a demand letter to Pamerleau and jail administrator Mark Thomas, again threatening litigation. Thomas responded the next day, saying he'd review Claitor's request.
Two days later, Claitor got a new cost estimate: $146.80, far below the $920 she was initially quoted. McGiverin says the lower estimate proves Bexar County tried to radically overcharge Claitor from the outset.
Last Friday, the TCRP filed a complaint with the Bexar County Commissioners Court, saying the incident "reveals a culture permissive of concealing information from the public."
"Withholding public information is unlawful; it is undemocratic; and it is bad policy," the letter states. "It cannot be tolerated."
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