Holiday week full of "unbelievable" violent crime in Odessa; City withholding important information on cases from public

Published: Dec. 3, 2019 at 5:59 PM CST
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In the span of less than a week, there were three people shot and killed, one person died after being run over and one was killed as a man was being pursued by the Ector County Sheriff’s Office.

Odessa Police Department Chief Michael Gerke said the number of violent crimes throughout the Permian Basin is concerning, while Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis said it’s “unbelievable” what is happening.

What should also be of concern to all Odessans is not just the rise in violent crime but also what appears to be City of Odessa officials stalling on releasing important information about all crime. The city recently made changes to the way information on crime is released — changes that FOI state officials say violate the public information act and that one official called “inexcusable.”

Detailed information on crime comes from probable cause affidavits, which until recently were verbally requested or requested by email by media outlets to a clerk at municipal court. Those affidavits, which detail what happened prior to a crime, during a crime and after a crime, are always considered an open record in Texas, which means that citizens and media are not required to file a Freedom of Information request to obtain the record. Previously, the clerk at municipal court would simply email the report, which allowed reporters to include details of what happened during a crime.

However, none of those probable cause affidavits or incident reports are now being released in a timely manner as City of Odessa officials are insisting that FOI requests be made through the city’s GovQA, which is the city’s information portal.

The Odessa American requested two probable cause affidavits on Nov. 13 and received a response two weeks later on Nov. 27. The probable cause affidavits were for Daniel Veloz after he was charged with continuous violence against the family, a third-degree felony, and Alejandro Manzano who was charged with injury to the elderly, a state jail felony, and assault family violence, a class A misdemeanor.

Kelley Shannon, the executive director at Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said the city is wrong.

“Governmental entities cannot force people to make public information act requests through online portals,” Shannon said. “It’s an option, but they cannot force it.”

Shannon also explained the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas also details basic police report information that should be released in a timely manner. She expressed that two weeks isn’t a timely manner.

Some of the basic police report information includes name, age, address, race, sex, occupation, alias and physical condition of the arrested person, date and time of the arrest, location of the crime, details of the arrest and names of the arresting and investigating officers.

“The stalling of releasing this is inexcusable,” Shannon said. “Basic police report information needs to be available to the public in a timely manner.”

Releasing information in a timely manner is important, not just to media outlets but also the general public. The recent uptick in violent crime in Odessa is something that the public is interested in and OA Editor Laura Dennis said the OA along with news partners CBS7 News will file a joint complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s office.

“Clearly Odessans want to know about the crimes going on in this city and their neighborhoods,” Dennis said. “It’s not just about the media. This is about basic information about crime going on here and the city using our own tax dollars to fund fighting the release of information that is clearly public.”

Just last week four people died and little information has been released.