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Houston, Texas Must Disclose Fatal Police Shooting Records

A Texas federal court granted Plaintiffs' motion to compel discovery filed by the estate of a man who was fatally shot by police. It also denied Defendants' motion for a protective order.

Roland Carnaby was shot and killed by two members of the Houston Police Department (HPD). His estate brought federal suit against the City of Houston and the two officers who shot him.

During the course of the case, Defendants moved for a protective order, limiting discovery. Plaintiffs countered with a motion to compel discovery.

The district court held that Defendants failed to demonstrate "good cause" for a protective order, sealing HPD Homicide Division Investigation, 911 and dispatch records. "Defendants present no evidence as to why this discovery should be subject to a protective order," the court found. "They simply described the requested materials as ‘sensitive’ and the case as 'high profile.'"

The court held that "these conclusory and stereotyped statements, without corroboration, do not warrant a protective order."

The court also held that the public's interest in open records outweighed Defendants' privacy interest. "Sealing discovery and limiting communications would only weaken popular faith in the judiciary, particularly in a case involving public safety and welfare," the court found.

The court also determined that Texas statutory privileges did not require a protective order. "Defendants . . . have already agreed to make these documents available to Plaintiff; they simply contest whether the discovered material should be sealed," the court noted. "Privilege is not being asserted; therefore, these statutes are not applicable."

Finally, the court noted that it was not clear whether Plaintiff had requested Internal Affairs Division (IAD) investigative files or the personnel files of any police officers. "To the extent these documents have been requested through the proper discovery channels," the court held that "copies should be made available to the Plaintiff, without further restriction, other than redaction of confidential personal information unrelated to Plaintiff's discovery requests." This conclusion was based upon the court's finding that "IAD and personnel files are highly relevant to the case at hand, and Defendants have offered no facts suggesting that these documents should be sealed." See: Carnaby v. City of Houston, USDC No. 4:08-cv-01366 (S D Tex 2008).

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Related legal case

Carnaby v. City of Houston