Hemphill County Sheriff Nathan Lewis has sent an appeal to the Texas Attorney General’s Office, requesting that it take over the investigation into the Thanksgiving 2016 disappearance of Thomas Brown, then a senior at Canadian High School.
Sheriff Lewis’ request, emailed to the AG’s Criminal Justice Division on Friday afternoon, is an apparent concession to a petition posted at change.org by Tom’s mother, Penny Meek, and promoted by the advocacy group, Moms4Tom.
“To leave no stone unturned and to bring to bear every resource the State of Texas has to solve the case of Thomas Brown,” the petition reads, “we respectfully request Hemphill County Attorney Kyle Miller and/or Hemphill County Sheriff Nathan Lewis to turn the investigation and subsequent prosecution if warranted over to the Texas Attorney General offices and let’s use our tax dollars to find Thomas rather than be an adversary of his family.”
The petition is directed to Hemphill County Attorney Kyle Miller, and has gathered 6,316 signatures since Thursday afternoon when it first appeared online.
In response, Lewis asked that the AG’s office “formally assume the responsibility for the investigation and/or prosecution” into what it terms a “missing person case.” He cites the family’s growing dissatisfaction with the results of his investigation, thus far, writing, “To that end, so that justice may be served for all concerned parties and Hemphill County, we ask [that] your office formally take the reins as the lead investigating agency for this matter.”
The petition drive follows several open records requests filed on October 2017 by Elgin attorney Rosanna Abrea—who represents Tom’s mother, Penny Meek—demanding that Sheriff Lewis release ten items of information compiled during its investigation of Tom’s disappearance.
County Attorney Miller challenged Abrea’s request, and sought an attorney general opinion on what, if anything, could be released to the public, and what should remain confidential. In requesting the opinion, Miller noted, “The entirety of the file contains information that, if made public, could compromise a criminal prosecution, should one prove warranted.”
In another online appeal, Moms4Tom asked the public to call the Attorney General’s office, urging them to grant the Public Information Request, and to reject the county’s appeal to keep the information private.
In a Dec. 20 response, Assistant Attorney General Kelly McWethy concluded that the information requested should be released. McWethy cited Miller’s failure to submit a copy of the specific information requested, or representative samples, labeled to indicate which exceptions apply to which parts of the documents. Without that documentation, he wrote, the information requested “is presumed to be public and therefore must be released, unless there is compelling reason to withhold the information from disclosure.
Hemphill County officials believe they do have reason. Amarillo attorney Matt Mazner has been retained by the Texas Association of Counties (TAC) to represent Hemphill County in seeking a declaratory judgment against the attorney general. Release of the requested information will have an adverse impact on the investigation, Mazner wrote. He cited Sheriff Lewis’ claim that disclosure of the documents would reveal individuals involved in the investigation, law enforcement methods used to obtain information, the identity of individuals who have provided information, and the various methods utilized by law enforcement agencies in assisting with the investigation.
That request by Hemphill County for injunctive relief from the attorney general’s ruling will now go before the Travis County District Court.
Meanwhile, amid all of this legal wrangling, Thomas Brown has not been seen or heard from since 11:20 pm on the night of Nov. 23, 2016. Since then, the Texas Rangers and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have both assisted the Sheriff’s Office investigation into Brown’s disappearance. Shortly after Tom’s disappearance, his family retained the services of Klein Investigations & Consulting of Nederland, whose agents continue to investigate the case.