El Paso News filed an open records request on May 24, 2023, asking for copies of the video evidence collected by the police while investigating the use of gasoline credit cards by former city representative Claudia Rodriguez and current city representative Cassandra Hernandez. Today, fifteen days after we submitted our request, the City of El Paso responded. Although government officials have ten business to respond to record requests filed under the Texas Public Information Act, our request took more than the ten days mandated by the law.
The city acknowledges the lateness in their respond to us in their letter today. According to the city, the Office of the City Attorney operates Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 5:00pm and only operates a “skeleton crew only on Fridays, unless the week” contains a holiday. Because of the Memorial Day holiday, the city attorney’s offices argues that they can take an additional week-and-a-half to fulfil their obligations under the open records law.
Even with the extra time, the City notified us that instead of providing us with the videos we requested, it has asked the Texas Attorney General for permission to withhold the video from us.
The letter, although not providing the information we requested, provides more information about the ongoing controversy over the use of the gasoline credit cards by city officials.
Ongoing Criminal Investigation
On May 24th we asked city officials to provide us:
“Any videos in the possession of The City of El Paso referenced in the El Paso Police Department Incident report number: 23101073 (ORI: TX0710200). The police report was included in the City Council Agenda for May 11, 2023 – regarding the use of gasoline cards investigated by the Financial Oversight & Audit Committee (FOAC). The police report references video evidence collected during the investigation. This open records request is for copies of any videos provided to the city council or the mayor’s office regarding the investigation.”
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As we previously reported, during the city council meeting of May 11th it was revealed that the police opened an investigation on April 11th into the use of the so-called P-Cards. Police officials closed their investigation seven days later, concluding that the alleged crimes were “unfounded.”
The reason that the City is asking the Texas Attorney General to withhold releasing the videos to us is because the videos “are part of an ongoing investigation.” The City cites two provisions. The first is that releasing the videos to us “would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime.” The City also cites a second provision that states that providing us the “internal record or notation would interfere with law enforcement or prosecution.”
The City has asked the Texas Attorney General for permission to withhold the public records from us because there is an ongoing criminal investigation over the use of the gasoline credit cards.
It is unknown who is investigating the use of the gasoline credit cards because the police had closed their investigation into the matter.
However, yesterday, Brianna Perez of KVIA reported that City Attorney Karla Nieman revealed during the City’s Financial Oversight and Audit Committee (FOAC) meeting that “an investigation may be ongoing into the gas card usage from an external law enforcement agency.”
According to KVIA, Nieman told the FOAC that she “has reason to believe there’s an ongoing law enforcement investigation, aside from the police department, and they are trying to clarify that before releasing the records.”
However, according to the letter we received today, the City is asking to withhold the videos because of an “ongoing investigation,” suggesting that the city attorney knows who is investigating the issue. Her letter to the Texas Attorney General asserts that an investigation is ongoing and she leaves no room in her assertion as to the need to “clarify” anything before releasing the records we, and other news media, have requested.
This is a developing story, stay with El Paso News for complete coverage.