Nearly two weeks after the Texas Rangers sent a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton requesting a ruling to release the investigation report of an Aug. 30 deputy-involved shooting in Harker Heights, the information remains private — all based on the Rangers’ inability to mark the investigation “closed” in its computer database.
Sgt. Dave Roberts, spokesman with the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Rangers’ parent organization, confirmed to the Herald last week that the Rangers’ investigation into the shooting of Navy veteran Lyle Blanchard, 59, by Bell County Sheriff’s Department Cpl. Shane Geers was no longer ongoing.
The completed investigation was taken before a Bell County grand jury Feb. 17. The jury returned a “no-action” ruling against Geers on any potential criminal charges after he shot an unarmed Blanchard four times following an attempted traffic stop and pursuit on the 12900 block of East Knights Way.
Although the investigation was taken before the jury nearly a month ago, the Rangers have yet to mark the investigation “closed” in their system because the Ranger in charge of the investigation has been busy, according to Roberts.
Sgt. Justin Duck, the lead Ranger on the case, has in the past deferred comment on the investigation, but Roberts said Duck confirmed to him the case was closed.
However, Duck has neglected to close out the investigation due to a heavy workload following the ruling, Roberts said.
Having the case listed as ongoing is the basis for the DPS to keep it from the public.
Nick Lealos, counsel for DPS, sent a letter to the attorney general’s office March 6 requesting to withhold the investigation report due to an exception in the Texas Public Information Act that states open criminal investigations are not subject to public disclosure.
Lealos told the Herald last week he would potentially rescind the letter to Paxton’s office if he received notification the investigation was closed from the DPS and Rangers. Lealos has yet to notify the Herald that the letter has been rescinded.
When asked whether the DPS would potentially seek to withhold the information based on another exception to the public information act — much like the Bell County Sheriff’s Department did after requests from the Herald for copies of dashcam footage from Geers’ service vehicle during the incident — Lealos declined to comment.
The attorney general’s office was notified of the situation Thursday and is in the process of clarifying the Rangers’ request for exception with the office. Barring the agency refiling with the attorney general, the information would be free for disclosure.
The Herald is still waiting on another attorney general ruling on a request filed by the sheriff’s department to withhold the dashcam footage and internal review of the incident.
The department requested an exception Feb. 23 based on Section 552.108 (a)(2) of the public information act, which states that governmental bodies are not required to disclose the contents of criminal investigations if those investigations do not return convictions or deferred adjudication.
The sheriff’s department did not say why it does not want to release the video footage of the shooting.
The AG’s office has 45 business days to respond to the request for ruling from the date it was filed.