Sunday, May 26, 2024

Despite two AG rulings, constable hasn’t released file in GISD porn claim

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Months after the attorney general ruled that Precinct 4 Constable Chad Jordan must turn over information about a porn-related criminal investigation involving books in Granbury ISD libraries, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression is still waiting on Jordan to fulfill its open records request.

FIRE is also waiting to see how the AG will respond to the formal complaint it filed against Jordan after he failed to comply even when the attorney general’s office ordered a second time that the documents be released.

FIRE attorney Adam Steinbaugh indicated that the organization might file a lawsuit if Jordan continues to balk.

“We hope litigation will not be necessary,” he wrote in an email to the Hood County News. “The law is clear, and Constable Jordan has already been told twice to produce the records.”

Jordan did not respond to phone and email messages from the HCN before press time. If he provides comment, the newspaper will update its online version of this article.

Jordan initiated the investigation after Monica Brown and Karen Lowery filed a complaint with his office on May 2. Both women served earlier this year on a GISD book review committee, the scope of which centered on written or visual materials that depicted explicit sexual acts or overtly sexual content.

Of 131 books placed under review, 116 were returned to shelves and three were removed for sexually explicit content or illustrations. Other books were deemed lost, duplicate titles, or incorrectly listed and not in school libraries.

Brown and Lowery have since publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the committee’s work.

Lowery was elected to the Place 7 seat on the school board on Nov. 8.

No arrests have been made in the investigation.

Steinbaugh’s open records request was filed on May 9, one week after Brown and Lowery filed a criminal complaint with Jordan’s chief deputy, Scott London. Steinbaugh requested:

  • A copy of any complaint concerning any book at Granbury High School or within the Granbury Independent School District;
  • A copy of any incident report, police report or other investigative report concerning any book or educational materials at Granbury High School or within the Granbury Independent School District;
  • Any correspondence (including, but not limited to, emails, letters, text messages or social media messages) sent to or from Chad Jordan or any of his direct reports concerning books or educational materials at Granbury High School or in the Granbury Independent School District; and
  • Any correspondence (including, but not limited to, emails, letters, text messages or social media messages) sent to or from Chad Jordan or any of his direct reports concerning media reports that Hood County Constables visited Granbury High School on May 6, 2022.

RULING APPEALED

Instead of fulfilling the request after Attorney General Ken Paxton’s Open Records Division instructed him to do so, Jordan, on Aug. 8, resubmitted his exception claim.

He included the original open records request, which he had failed to include the first time despite a requirement to do so.

In an email to the HCN in September, Steinbaugh stated, “It’s a request to reconsider a decision. I don't know that the Attorney General's office even needs to respond to that, since there is no process by which an agency can ask them to reconsider. Constable Jordan's only option was to file a lawsuit challenging the decision and he didn't do so.”

Jordan included with his resubmission a two-page letter from District Attorney Ryan Sinclair.

Sinclair noted in the letter that while his office had not seen the full police report, “it is believed the responsive materials would include, at a minimum, details of the alleged offense, personal identifiers of suspects and witnesses related to the alleged offense under investigation, and investigative techniques utilized. To the extent Constable Jordan’s investigative file contains these types of information, our office believes such information is excepted from public disclosure” under the Texas Government Code.

Sinclair also corresponded with Steinbaugh, who had requested that the district attorney take action against Jordan for his failure to disclose records.

In a letter to Steinbaugh dated Oct. 5, Sinclair cited a conflict of interest due to the letter he had written giving conditional support to Jordan withholding certain information and the fact that his office “would potentially be responsible for reviewing and/or prosecuting the case.”

Sinclair advised Steinbaugh that he had the right to file a complaint with the attorney general.

Steinbaugh did, on Nov. 3.

The complaint was filed one day after the attorney general’s office issued a letter denying Jordan’s request for exception a second time, stating, “We have no indication the law, facts, or circumstances on which the prior ruling was based have changed.”

Steinbaugh stated of Sinclair, “We’re disappointed by the district attorney’s response, as it means that the public cannot depend on district attorneys to enforce the law when law enforcement decides to ignore public records law. And, above all else, it should raise alarm bells when police are surveilling libraries.”

Sinclair emailed the following statement to the HCN:

“I understand Mr. Steinbaugh’s concern for open records. I also understand Constable Jordan’s concern for the confidentiality of active criminal investigations. But simply put, if Constable Jordan’s investigation results in a criminal prosecution, then my office would potentially be handling that prosecution.

“Mr. Steinbaugh alleges open records violations directly related to this very same investigation. This creates a direct conflict of interest. In such situations, the law requires the district attorney’s office to notify the requestor of the conflict and to inform him of his right to request an investigation by Attorney General Ken Paxton. We have notified Mr. Steinbaugh.”

MORE WAITING

As for the complaint with the AG’s office, Steinbaugh said that the receipt of such complaints triggers a 31-day deadline for the office to respond.

He said that the AG could encourage Jordan to comply or file an enforcement action against him in civil court.

Steinbaugh said that once the open records request has been fulfilled, FIRE will use the information “to reach out to those whose rights are being threatened by Constable Jordan’s investigation.”

He stated, “We expect that the records will show that the constable’s investigation into high school library books is inappropriate. People may not like all of the books in a library, but obscenity is a difficult standard to meet under the First Amendment — and if a library doesn’t have at least one book you think is offensive, it’s not a library at all.”