Posted on August 27, 2013 at 5:31 PM
Wednesday, Oct 30 at 10:29 AM
AUSTIN -- It was the emotional climax of weeks of protests.
Thousands of demonstrators descended on the Texas Capitol the morning of July 12 for a final vote on controversial abortion legislation. The day began with a stern warning.
"If persons in violation of the Senate rules of decorum, they'll be taken out of the Senate and lose their ability, their privileges to be in here and to watch this debate," Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R-Texas) cautioned the gallery.
As a day of escalating tension stretched into the evening, the Texas Department of Public Safety made an announcement that kicked off a firestorm of controversy. In a statement to media, the department said officers inspecting people attempting to enter the Senate gallery had made several startling discoveries.
"Officers have thus far discovered one jar suspected to contain urine, 18 jars suspected to contain feces, and three bottles suspected to contain paint," read the statement. "All of these items -- as well as significant quantities of feminine hygiene products, glitter and confetti possessed by individuals -- were required to be discarded; otherwise those individuals were denied entry into the gallery."
What followed over the next few days and weeks was a contentious back and forth over whether the account of protesters armed with urine and feces was true. Days later, state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) addressed a letter to the department asking for documentation to back up the claims that protesters had indeed attempted to smuggle human waste in the Senate gallery.
Now 144 pages of documents released by the department offer little to bolster either argument.
An internal e-mail from DPS Director Steve McCraw lamented, "I am tired of reading that we made this stuff up. Let's get the photos we have to members of the media. Does anyone realistically believe we would fabricate evidence to support a political agenda. Amazing."
Yet the only photographs showed paint, an unmarked bottle and a few bricks. A corresponding internal e-mail explained troopers weren't directed to take photographs since nothing was seized, and anyone with suspicious material had been asked to throw it away. The same e-mail stated the sheer volume of people waiting to get into the gallery was also a factor explaining the lack of photographs.
The documents also show the department was on high alert, actively tracking discussions on social media sites that ranged from suggestions that protesters throw paint on lawmakers to pleas from others to consider how their side will be perceived by a national audience, and to "make it classy."
Closely following internet forums, the department prepared daily intelligence on what sorts of demonstrations were being planned. The department also received reports on abortion rights groups' rumored plans from anti-abortion activists. By the end of the day, a dozen abortion rights demonstrators were arrested for various acts of civil disobedience.
"The fact is I don't doubt that somebody thought something, but there's no evidence. There are a lot of inconsistencies," Howard said Tuesday. Critical of the accusations she says have been used by some to demonize the protesters, Howard said she doesn't believe DPS is necessarily lying.
"Whoever initiated this, I would hope there would be some clarification from that person or from that person’s supervisor so that we actually know there was a person who actually saw something that was based on something, and we don’t even have that," said Howard. "I think it could be cleared up if we just had the information about why this statement was even released in the first place, and I haven’t seen that."