Toothless Public Records laws
Sadly the Public Records laws both at the national level and at the Arizona level are toothless laws which our elected officials and appointed government bureaucrats routinely ignore!
Arizona has a really nice public records law that demands politicians answer request for public records as soon as possible. Sadly the law doesn't have any punishment for politicians who refuse to obey it, or any means to force politicians to obey it.
Records requests: Would you want information on your child's death?
Stuart Warner, The Republic | azcentral.com 9:33 p.m. MST April 26, 2014
Your teenage son is walking through his Arizona neighborhood, on a sidewalk perhaps 50 feet from the fence that separates us from Mexico. He is visiting his brother at work. Some kids begin throwing rocks across the fence at Mexican border guards. Your son tries to evade the confrontation.
The Mexican border guards respond with gunfire, shooting through the fence to the U.S. side. Your son is killed, shot 10 times in the back and head. Everyone else runs safely away. Witnesses say your son was not involved.
And there is a video camera in Mexico that recorded exactly what happened.
Would you want the Mexican government to turn over a copy of that video?
Perhaps viewing such acase from our side of the fence will help you understand why a Mexican mother, Araceli Rodriguez, wants to see what happened on the night of Oct. 12, 2012— and why Arizona Republic reporter Bob Ortega began filing requests for public records the day after one or more Border Patrol agents shot and killed her 16-year-old son, Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez,in his Nogales, Sonora, neighborhood.
And maybe you would understand a mother's frustration — and ours — at the U.S. government's refusal to turn over a video, the names of the agents involved or any other information about the case, which remains under investigation 18 months later.
Araceli Rodriguez told Ortega she can't understand why the video from theborder-fence cameras hasn't been released. "Do you think … that if they had a video of my son throwing rocks, they wouldn't have produced it by now?" she asked.
But we continue to fight for that evidence and more on behalf of her and families and friends of at least 44 others who have been killed by border agents since 2005.
Ortega has filed 125 record requests seeking information on these shootings and all other use-of-force incidents involving border agents since 2005. The requests to federal agencies are based on the Freedom of Information Act of July 4, 1966. The act gives anyone the right to obtain federal records by filing a request to the appropriate agency. (Go to
for more information.)
There are nine exemptions by which those records can be withheld from the public. Among the most common we've encountered is Exemption 7(A) — asserting that a case remains under investigation. Even when it isn't.
Ramses Barron Torres, another Nogales teen, was fatally shot by border agents on Jan. 5, 2011, also during an alleged rock-throwing incident.
On Aug. 9, the Department of Justice announced that the investigation of Barron Torres had concluded. So Ortega filed another request for the case documents. It was denied. He filed an appeal with the FBI and the Justice Department. It was denied. He filed another appeal with the Office of Government Information Services, which is supposed to help mediate denials. The OGIS replied: "The FBI declined to provide further information about its continued use of Exemption 7(A) to withhold the documents you seek."
Again, imagine that is information you want about your son's death.
But Ortega's record requests have not been in vain. We obtained more than 12,000 pages of redacted information on use-of-force incidents, leading to an ongoing series, Force at the Border, by Ortega and Rob O'Dell, revealing the cloak of secrecy that surrounds these incidents.
The series also played a role in Border Patrol changing some of its policies, including advising agents to avoid placing themselves in situations where their only option is to respond with deadly force against rock throwers.
That isn't enough for Araceli Rodriguez.
"I still want to know who killed my son," she told Ortega, "and what they're doing about it."
About the writer
Stuart Warner is a senior editor supervising coverage of the border, immigration, higher education, Maricopa County government and justice enterprise. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editor.
How to reach him
After 18 months, the death of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez is still under investigation.
Araceli Rodriguez wants to know what's on the video cameras that recorded her son's death.
The Republic continues to file public-records requests on use-of-force incidents at the border.