Lawmaker wants change following Rice police arrest

Author: Robert Arnold, Investigative Reporter, rarnold@kprc.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 05:50:56 PM CST   Updated On: Dec 05 2013 06:20:25 AM CST
HOUSTON -

A state senator is calling for a change in the law following a Local 2 Investigates story on how Rice University police officers handled the arrest of Ivan Joe Waller.

Local 2 obtained video showing Rice police officers striking Waller several times with their batons after he stole a bicycle from campus.

"There's two distinct issues here," said State Senator John Whitmire.

Whitmire said one issue deals with the officers’ actions. Since Local 2 reported this story, Whitmire said the Harris County District Attorney's Office and, at his request, the Texas Rangers are investigating. Whitmire said the other issue is what he feels is Rice's lack of transparency.

"Who is Rice Police Department accountable to?" said Whitmire. "They say they don't even have to answer questions."

As Local 2 reported, we only obtained a portion of the video sources said is several minutes in length. Rice officials denied our requests to view the entire video to better understand why officers felt the level of force they used was necessary.

When Local 2 pushed for more specific answers and tried to obtain a copy of the video under the Texas Public Information Act,  Rice attorneys wrote that the since the police department is a division of an "independent, private institution of higher education" it is "not required to respond to your requests for information under the Act."

Rice officials did send Local 2 a statement that read Waller "resisted" officer’s attempts to arrest him and that he "had to be forcibly restrained and handcuffed." Rice officials stated an "internal review" of the incident "concluded that officers used the amount of force necessary to overcome the suspect's resistance to arrest."

"I'm shocked that Rice, an outstanding institution, would say, 'hey, we don't have to furnish you anything,' on something as serious as this," said Whitmire. "We have no idea how they carried out their quote, internal investigation."

Whitmire said when the Texas legislature goes back in session he will push for two changes in the law. Whitmire said he wants police departments created by private institutions to be subject to the same level of public inspection that other police departments, such as HPD, are subject to under current laws.

Last week State Representative Garnet Coleman echoed Whitmire's statement.

"We're going to have to do something to create new rules," Coleman said in reference to the level of transparency required of state certified police departments created by private institutions.

"Quite frankly it's not just the Rice police department, there are other special police departments across the state," said Whitmire. "They are carrying out the laws of the state of Texas, they ought to be subject to open records and open information."

Whitmire said he will also push to create a law that requires the Texas Rangers to independently investigate any allegations of police misconduct at police departments run by private institutions.

"They can launch and carry out a very thorough and transparent investigation," said Whitmire.

Local 2 also reported the Harris County Sheriff's Office declined to release Waller's "mug shot" taken at the county jail following his arrest. At the time of Local 2's request, sheriff's officials wrote, "This is a Rice University police case and they do not want the mug shot to be released."?

On Monday, the sheriff's office released Waller's "mug shot." Sheriff's officials said the original denial was done in error and there was no legal basis for withholding the picture.