On August 11, 2016, the Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O’Connor, released an official statement not to publicly disclose jail mug shots until convicted or after deferred adjudication. This act is to protect inmates from public judgement prior to the verdict of their individual cases, which is in line with the mission statement of The County of Victoria which is to serve and protect the citizens of Victoria through professionalism, ethics, and integrity.1
There were insights that this statement is released only to avoid any lawsuit that the county sheriff might receive in publicly showing mug shots of inmates, which has reaped a number of reactions within the state. The current county sheriff’s had been releasing mug shots since elected in 2005, until Victoria Advocate, the state’s newspaper requested for a mugshot of Citizens Medical Center’ past CEO Stephen Thames. Stephen Thames was arrested recently for an aggravated assault with possession of deadly weapon case, and his identification photo was released past the mandated number of days for an information to be considered as public information.
As stipulated in the Texas Public Information Act, any government body has to announce any known public information within ten business days when requested, otherwise, it means the body is seeking lawyers to confirm whether such data is deemed private. The mugshot of Thames was released to the public only after 14 business days of the request date.
Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas has contradicted to this change of policy, as that there has never been an incident where a sheriff gets sued in a release of a mugshot of anyone, as mug shots are considered public information that should be made available to everyone for awareness. A number of county sheriffs have divided reactions, and at this point, it is ultimately dependent on how a county sheriff would want this handled.
The majority of the county sheriffs believe that freedom of information includes a public record like identification photo of the individual arrested, as the act of arrest itself is a public matter and it has immunity to the right to privacy. One purpose of the mugshot upon arresting the offender is to document the condition of the person at the time of arrest. Making it public via newspaper like Victoria Advocate allows the community to know what is happening in the county, and taking it away from the public may blind the eyes of the people to know what is happening around them.
However, other sheriffs condemned some ill-driven websites where they collect all the jailhouses’ mug shots and charge any requester requesting to remove the image. These people should never take advantage of other’s suffering, and is protected by the 2013 Senate Bill Act 1289, which prohibits anyone from asking for a fee to remove any publicly available mugshot, along with its strict mandate on the accuracy of information.
Currently, the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office stands firm to its decision to keep mug shots private until proven guilty or has received a deferred adjudication and stressed that this decision has arisen to abhor public humiliation of innocent individuals and not because of Thames’ or anyone’s cases has transpired.
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