EDITORIAL: If it’s a cover-up, it will come unraveled

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Everyone knows that a certain incident occurred.

Everyone knows it happened because there were witnesses.

Turns out one of the witnesses was you. You were represented at the incident by a tiny electronic gadget — a camera in a police car.

Yes, since we were all working at real jobs, taking care of our families and obligations, paying our mortgages and our taxes, we couldn’t be there in person. But the law, public policy and good state government placed the camera there to make sure our interests were protected.

But our publicy-owned camera and the cloud storage were not the only witnesses. Others in the Police Department saw it. In fact, a grievance from the former police chief to the City indicates the FBI also became interested and requested all of the video. While only a patrol unit video was electronically transferred to the requesting agency, it traveled across space and time creating even more witnesses.

The body camera video matters because a licensed Texas peace officer raised its evidential existence in more than one official government document. Whether or not the officer’s allegation is true that it documents inappropriate behavior by the Mayor during a ride along can only be answered by the public viewing of the video.

Taken while he was a front-seat passenger during a ride along with former Officer Jeff Farmer, the audio and video footage on Farmer’s body camera reportedly shows the Mayor using profanity, making offensive comments about the suspect and other law enforcement agencies, and accessing the police unit computer during a high-speed chase of a motorcycle.

When The Independent requested the video from the City of Liberty Hill we received various responses that could be perceived as stonewalling. Among other explanations, they asked why we want it. And in accordance with the law that states they shouldn’t ask, we didn’t answer.

In his defense, Mayor Rick Hall doesn’t intimate that the video doesn’t exist. Instead, he says that we didn’t request the correct date of the incident so the City won’t release it.

And while he is correct that the law requires a date certain to obtain body camera footage, the response is typical for this administration.

Instead of being forthcoming with information, it is common practice for the City to hide behind the law waiting for the public to get lucky, pull the arm and hit the jackpot on the exact combination of words that line up like images on a slot machine.

The law is clear, and the newspaper is putting city government on notice that it is a criminal violation to destroy this video evidence, edit it, or alter a government document in any way.

It is a travesty of the public interest for this City Council, city staff and lawyers to become involved in what appears to be a political stonewalling and cover-up of one of their own member’s actions. Their organized silence is unethical and runs counter to the spirit of open government and Texas open records laws.

This Council appears to have forgotten its primary obligations to its citizens to act in honesty and openness. It appears they have chosen to circle the wagons and protect one of their own rather than ask the questions we are asking.

Denial is truth for this Council, and everything said by a handful of employees and former employees is easily squashed as sour grapes.

One can only wonder why they aren’t asking questions of the Mayor. Why don’t the mounting accusations against Hall matter to this Council? Why hasn’t there been an item on a public meeting agenda regarding five pages of allegations against Hall made by former Chief Maverick Campbell? Don’t the accusations deserve at least cursory consideration, maybe even an investigation? The Council investigated Campbell and City Secretary Barbara Zwernemann, so what’s wrong with giving the same consideration to claims against an elected official?

If the Council is truly independent of the Mayor, as some members claim, and they want to do the right thing for the community, the way to begin is to have the courage to launch an inquiry, and be honest and transparent in providing their findings to the public.

If the allegations of inappropriate behavior inside a police unit are incorrect, it would be easy to set that record straight and put the matter to rest by releasing the video.

While the scent of a salary and the absence of political opponents may have created a very different scenario in our hometown this year, it’s one that always brings down those seeking power and money for themselves.

What is done in darkness is always eventually uncovered when someone opens the curtains of secrecy and sunlight spills into the room.

Because it’s our job, The Independent will continue our search for the truth. When we find it, we’ll print it for you.

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