City hall lawyers in Dallas have blocked a public records request, from The Dallas Morning News, for records and documents relating to the police department’s visit to the home of Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway, saying that they might be “highly intimate or embarrassing” and are “no interest to the public.”
City attorneys instead ordered the police department to refrain from releasing the files, and asked the Texas Attorney General’s office for an opinion on whether they should comply with the request.
The newspaper earlier requested and received a copy of basic police report that provided little in the way of details about why the police were called on Jan. 2 to a disturbance at the home of Caraway and his wife, state Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway, although the report said it was a “marital disturbance.”
Later, Caraway said that the incident had nothing to do with him and his wife, but instead was caused by a disagreement between two friends, identified as “Arthur and Archie,” who were arguing over the Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles game.
Caraway briefly addressed the issue once again at a city council meeting, saying that police responded to a marital dispute, contradicting his earlier statement.
City lawyers, in seeking to withhold release of the records are citing common law rights of privacy, contending the information could be withheld if it contains “highly intimate or embarrassing facts” and is “no legitimate concern to the public.”
The DMN, in a letter to the state’s attorney general, argued that the matter is of legitimate concern to the general public, because Caraway is in line for the mayor’s office, if current Mayor Tom Leppert decides to step down and run for the U.S. Senate. Should Caraway become mayor, the public would have the right to expect that a person in that position would act with honesty and integrity.
The letter points out that Caraway did not handle the matter as a private citizen, but as an official of city hall. Instead of placing a call to the police department like any ordinary citizen, he made a direct call to the Chief of Police. And instead of patrol officers responding, a team of elite special investigators were sent.
Later, when a public records request was made for the police documents, instead of acting on his own as a private citizen, Caraway ordered city lawyers to intercede. He also used time at a city council meeting to attempt to dismiss the matter.
For all these reasons, the incident is no longer a personal one, but one in which he involved the city from the very beginning, according to Joel White, a First Amendment attorney for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
“Either this is a public matter or it’s an entirely personal matter, and he’s trying to make it both,” White said. “No. 1, you lied about it. That clearly reflects on his qualifications to hold public office. And second, if he didn’t think that, then why is he making it an issue at a City Council meeting?”