Updated Thursdays

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Open Records Request 1

I wrestled with the issue of whether or not to actually contact HPD and the Da's office for information even before I started this blog. I didn't want to bring SPM"s case to the attention of the wrong people, I didn't want to make waves that might upset an appeal, and I don't want to hurt either of the families involved in Coy vs Texas.

I overcame my fears the day I called the office of Coy's former prosecutor, who now works alongside his former defense lawyer. I figured if I was right, it'd be worth the (purely theoretical) shitstorm. If I was wrong, no harm could come from asking questions.

After I realized that there might be DNA evidence that had not been given to the defense lawyers, I knew I would need to get ahold of the police report. I know it's a long shot; while I don't understand Mr. Lewis' strategic decisions in the court room, nothing I've found suggests that he has a habit of ignoring evidence. If it was in the report, he probably would have known about it. However, the Rosenthal's DA office had been known to conceal exculpatory evidence. I just wanted to check, to see if maybe something in the police report would help out.

I (wrongly) assumed I would be able to do this without much trouble...The Freedom of Information Act is our friend, right? Wrong. Trying to get this report has made me want to bash my head against a wall several times; It's frustrating trying to navigate the instructions for submitting a request, gathering all the information required, trying to figure out how much it's going to cost me, etc. But finally, on July 12, I figured my shit was together enough to go ahead and make the request. I hoped to have the report in my hands in 10 business days.

Ha ha, how foolish I was to think that it would be that easy. Two requests, six phone calls, and one shouting match with an obnoxious, rude, uncommunicative 'public servant' later, I'm no closer to seeing the (10 year old!) police report than I ever was.

I fear that the animosity of the people I've pissed off will negatively affect Coy in prison, or my efforts to obtain information that might help him get a fair trial. However, the professionalism of most of the members of the HPD I've dealt with is encouraging. SPM never did anything quietly, so I hope he will forgive me for making a little noise on his behalf.

I've written this as it was happening, and it's quite long. I will be posting it over several days, and I'll update as it continues. A few weeks ago, I contacted the Houston police Department's Open Records Unit to request a copy of the incident report from Sept 1, 2001. In order for them to find the documents you request, they ask that you provide as much information as possible, including the incident report number, the address where the alleged offense took place, and the names and birthdates of the people involved.

I got Carlos Coy's former address from the court documents available at the Harris county District Clerk's office along with the names of the parties involved. I was not able to find an incident report number but hey, that's why they have file clerks, right? I typed everything up neatly, included my name and home address, and emailed my request to the HPD. I received a confirmation email almost immediately, within three minutes.
According to the Freedom of Information Act, they have ten business days to respond. On the very last day, I received their answer. Not only had they misspelled the name of one of the parties involved, but they claimed that I had sent a non-existent address!

Uh, no. I had sent the correct names and address, but someone in their office had transposed the first two numbers and because of THEIR mistake, I would have to re-submit my request and wait another ten business days to get a reply, which probably also would have been denied.
They gave me the physical address of their office (useless, since I'm not in Houston) and a fax number. WHAT THE FUCK. Who the hell has a fax machine anymore? After staring at the letterhead for several minutes, I realized they had also included a phone number, but there were no identifying (parenthesis) or dashes - to let people know what it was. It just looked like a serial number.

Oh, those sneaky bastards.

Well, I called the number, got transferred a few times, and finally got the voicemail of the guy who signed the letter. I left a message with my name, my home phone (twice), and a brief explanation of why I was calling. He got back to me within the hour, and was very professional and helpful. He checked the address, found that it did indeed exist, and promised to re-open my request, making sure his people typed it right this time. He said his office would contact me Tuesday.

At the time, I was a little frustrated that such a minor mistake on someone else's part would hold back my research, but I understand that typos and bureaucratic apathy are impossible to avoid. I was not upset, and I didn't feel like they were purposefully trying to keep me from getting the documents I requested. Mistakes happen, right?

Monday's post: The trouble begins.


Anonymous said...

Free s.p.

Anonymous said...

u could give someone who lives in houston the info and have them go down there if they wanna help spm

Anonymous said...

Free spm!