Houston Rodeo loses open records fight

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Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo lost its bid Friday to keep its financial records from public view, after a ruling by Harris County District Judge Steven Kirkland.

Investigator Wayne Dolcefino has been fighting to find out Rodeo payments for security, as well as any payments to settle litigation involving harassment or sexual assault complaints. The Rodeo resisted, citing that Dolcefino is part of an attorney’s probe questioning the Rodeo’s involvement in a rape case.

Kirkland denied that was a valid exception to keep financial records private.

“Judge Steven Kirkland delivered a clear message Friday morning that the Rodeo isn’t the sacred cow it pretends to be, and that charity laws require them to follow the law,” Dolcefino said. “Judge Kirkland has proven to me that I am not the only person who does not have ‘sacred cow disease,’”

He added: “To get to be a charity, your financial records are public, plain and simple.”

Dolcefino is now waiting for those records.

“The rodeo needs to give me the records and I would like them today,” he said.

He may not get them today, but he will get them soon, according to Rodeo officials.

“We will comply with the judge’s ruling and release the requested records this week,” a Rodeo spokeswoman said.

Dolcefino first asked for the records March 23.

Soon after, the Rodeo filed a protective order in court, arguing the records should not be made public.

Dolcefino said he became curious about the Rodeo’s security costs and potential payouts for sexual assault or harassment complaints while investigating a rape in Liberty County that he believes is linked to the Rodeo.

The Rodeo has long — and strongly — denied any connection to the incident.

The rape occurred during the Los Vaqueros Rio Grande Trail Ride in 2012, which Dolcefino said has long been associated with the Houston Rodeo. It is one of 13 trail rides that form to travel to join the Rodeo every year.

He is looking into this matter on behalf of Chad Pinkerton, the attorney representing the rape victim.

According to court records, the rape happened when the woman was drunk.

While passed out, it appears she was raped in her boyfriend’s brother’s truck, according to court records.

From a court document:

“While she was passed out, Plaintiff alleges that she was raped by Alvin Wesley Prine… Prine was arrested on sexual assault charges and after a trial by jury in Liberty County he was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant was somehow affiliated with the event hosted by Los Vaqueros, which Defendant denies.”

It was because of this investigation that the Rodeo went to court to protect the records, arguing that Dolcefino was trying to get around the rules of discovery and “to create negative publicity in an effort to prejudice,” according to the Rodeo.

Trent Seibert can be reached at [email protected] or at 832-258-6119.

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Trent is an award-winning editor and reporter, who has previously worked The Denver Post, The (Nashville) Tennessean, and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Most recently, he was the investigative producer for Houston’s KTRK-TV ABC-13. He was also the editor and founder of Texas Watchdog, a ground-breaking news group that paved the way for this project. Trent is a teacher of journalism skills, and has shown hundreds of reporters and citizen-journalists how to use public records, databases and journalism tools to keep a watchful eye on their own local government.

15 COMMENTS

  1. How is what happen in a private vehicle and not on rodeo grounds the fault of the rodeo ? I feel bad for the young lady. I do not condone what happened to her

  2. I’ve lost a LOT of respect for the HOUSTON RODEO over their lack of transparency. I believe that on this issue alone, that several top level heads need to roll, and be ousted from executive positions. Hold them accountable.

    • Jerry Sneed Their long standing refusal to obey the law that non profit entities must have open books convinced me. It’s clear…. they must open their records, and the judge agreed as well. When laws are broken, they are broken by living and breathing persons. Those that made the decision to keep the books closed, in my opinion should even be arrested and charged. Laws were broken.

    • It’s a non profit, and by law, non profit books must be open and transparent. They refused requests for information that was a part of their records. The rodeo association actually violated criminal law by refusing.

  3. The open records issue aside, rodeos should be outlawed nationwide due to their inherent cruelty. For nearly all the animals involved (unwillingly)–horses and bulls included–rodeo is merely a detour en route to the slaughterhouse. They (and we) deserve far better.

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