A state district judge granted a protective order in an open records case related to a fatal shooting that left a Mission police officer and another man dead.
Last week, state District Judge Fernando Mancias ordered the city to turn over information regarding the 2019 incident during which Mission police Cpl. Jose Espericueta was killed.
The people seeking the information were the family of Juan Carlos Chapa Jr., the man who shot Espericueta but who was also fatally shot by Mission police officers responding to the scene.
Chapa’s family filed a petition against the city to force them to turn over the information regarding the incident, which Mancias granted on Dec. 15.
The city, however, then requested the judge issue a protective order to prevent the family from distributing the information to the public and asking that the Chapas only be allowed to inspect the information, not possess it.
In the order signed Wednesday, the judge ruled to keep information from public disclosure as requested by the city but he ordered the city to provide the Chapa family with “full and complete copies of” the information.
Mancias’ ruling comes the day after a virtual hearing on the issue during which attorneys for the city and the Chapa family made their case.
Horacio Peña, the attorney for the family, argued the information should be public under state law.
“The city’s attempt to limit the release and manner of the information would completely frustrate, your honor, the purpose of the statute,” Peña said told the judge.
He noted that the city raised the issue of sensitivity with regard to Espericueta’s death but argued the city didn’t reserve the same sensitivity when it came to Chapa.
“Where was that same sensitivity, your honor, when the police officers from the city of Mission and the Texas Rangers attended the autopsy of my clients’ son and observed the entirety of the autopsy while he lay dead on a slab? Peña said. “And not only that — took photographs and reviewed the entire autopsy procedure.”
“And I know that that information has been circulated through the Mission Police Department, even to individuals who are not entitled to see that,” Peña added.
Granting the protective order, Peña further argued, “would turn the intent of the statute into a vehicle of secrecy and allow the government to control the narrative — which it’s not entitled to do under the statute — of the events and give them power to never be accountable to the people.”
Mancias asked Heather Scott, the attorney for the city, if they were concerned about intimate matters or embarrassing information coming to light, to which she replied that there was “a need to retain some degree of privacy to protect the sensitive nature of a tragedy that also affects another family and the tragedy they live with every single day.”
She also argued that the petition filed by the family does not give “free reign” to the public to view the information.
“There should be some degree of privacy to be able to be retained to protect those families,” Scott said. “Not just one family, all the families that are involved in this.”
Peña said the Chapa family did not intend to distribute the information to media but for the Chapa family to receive copies of the documents.
“I don’t want to go to the city of Mission and sit in a room at the police department or the city hall and have them looking over my shoulders or the Chapas’ shoulders while I’m inspecting this,” he said. “That’s not the way this works.”
Scott then responded that if they didn’t intend to distribute the information, they shouldn’t have an issue with the protective order.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Mancias said he would review the proposed protective order but would likely make changes to it, which he made by excluding the city’s request to only allow the family to inspect the information.
The family will receive copies of the documents, as per the signed order, which will be designated as confidential.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with the full version at 5:08 p.m.