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Ahmed’s family never got Irving ISD letter seeking to release arrest details

Lawyers representing Ahmed Mohamed say Irving ISD's request to release records of the incident that led to his Sept. 15 arrest and his disciplinary history was erroneously routed to Linda Moreno (left) of the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America. Moreno says she never represented Ahmed and has not spoken to the family since appearing at a Sept. 16 press conference outside the Mohamed family home.
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File 2015/The Associated Press

Linda Moreno (left) of the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America speaks during a Sept. 16 press conference, accompanied by Ahmed Mohamed and his father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed.

The morning after a 14-year-old tech nerd’s arrest for bringing a clock to MacArthur High School became global news, a PA announcement assured Ahmed Mohamed’s classmates that “we have a very different version of what happened than you are seeing from the media.”

But child privacy laws barred authorities from sharing their side of the story, an Irving ISD spokeswoman told a media mob the same morning. They needed permission from Ahmed’s family to release records that might explain why police mistook his clock for a hoax bomb.

And when the permission never came, some wondered what Ahmed was hiding.

“The family is ignoring the requests from the ISD,” Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne said after a week of bad press, during an interview with a host who speculated that Islamists orchestrated Ahmed’s arrest to embarrass Irving.

But The Dallas Morning News has learned that Ahmed’s family never got the request to release his records, because the school district mailed it to the wrong lawyer.

Irving ISD resent the request to Ahmed’s attorneys last week, after getting questions about it. But while the boy’s lawyers consider it, police are trying to withhold all details of his arrest — even the officers’ names.

‘Very unbalanced’

Hours before President Barack Obama joined the international dog pile on Irving’s treatment of Ahmed, school district spokeswoman Lesley Weaver warned reporters that the emerging story “has been very unbalanced.”

While critics saw Ahmed’s handcuffing as overreaction or Islamophobia, Weaver said federally protected school records told a different story about the Sept. 14 arrest.

“If the family grants us written permission to release the information, we would be happy to provide additional facts to the media,” she said.

While talk show hosts, tech giants and Muslim rights groups celebrated Ahmed in the days ahead, skeptics wondered why the family wouldn’t release his records.

“Is there any doubt in your mind … that this is not what it appears now to be?” TV host Glenn Beck asked the mayor in an interview on Sept. 21, after another guest claimed the boy had “staged” his arrest.

“The school district is put in a really bad position because the child is a minor,” Van Duyne said. “A number of times [the district] has asked the family to release the records so you can have a balanced story out there.”

The mayor’s claims that the family ignored Irving ISD’s pleas fueled new suspicion of Ahmed, who even Irving’s police chief has said never meant to scare anyone by bringing his clock to school.

“Ahmed’s parents still won’t sign waiver allowing school to share their side of story,” read a headline on the conservative news and opinion website Breitbart News Network a day after the mayor’s interview hit the Web.

In fact, the Mohameds had never received any waiver.

After the family canceled appointments to meet with city and school officials, an Irving ISD lawyer wrote a letter three days after his arrest, requesting permission to release records of the clock incident and the boy’s disciplinary history to the media.

But the letter never made it to Ahmed’s house. Instead, the school district mailed it to the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America, whose attorney Linda Moreno had appeared with Ahmed’s family at its first news conference — and had not spoken to them since.

“I believe there was a time that many people believed that Linda Moreno represented the student and/or family,” Irving ISD’s Weaver said in an email.

Moreno, who works part time at the Richardson-based law center, said she didn’t see the letter until last week and didn’t know why the district sent it to her.

“I have made it clear to numerous press inquiries that I do not represent Ahmed,” Moreno said in an email. “Indeed, I personally spoke with [Irving ISD’s attorney Tina Patel] soon after the press conference and so informed her.”

No comment

After The News asked Irving ISD about the request last week, the district re-sent it to Ahmed’s actual attorneys, Thomas Bowers and Reggie London, who didn’t comment on it when reached Friday.

The boy and his father are now in Qatar on a global celebrity tour.

“Why don’t they just send it to the house?” Ahmed’s uncle Aldean Mohamed said when told about the mixup. “They have the address on file.”

Irving ISD’s spokeswoman didn’t respond when asked the same question.

And Van Duyne — who has said on Facebook that Ahmed misquoted an officer who questioned him at the school — did not reply when asked how she could know confidential details about his arrest.

Irving police

Whether or not the Mohameds let the school district release Ahmed’s records, Irving City Hall is trying to keep its own details of the incident under wraps.

In a letter last week, the police department asked the state attorney general’s office for permission to withhold all records related to Ahmed’s arrest from reporters. Like the school district, police cite laws that shield records involving children from the public.

But “even if the release of the responsive records was not prohibited,” police legal adviser Les Moore wrote to the attorney general, the city would seek to withhold them voluntarily under a law that lets them keep dismissed cases secret.

And in what Moore acknowledged was “an unusual request,” police are trying to withhold the personnel files and names of the officers who questioned and arrested Ahmed, citing threats.

The school district and city have been inundated with phone calls, emails and social media posts since Ahmed’s story went viral three weeks ago — including disturbing messages like a picture of a sniper rifle captioned: “Time to go pig hunting.”

“Some of the posts were from groups known to target officers and departments with hacking attacks or assaults on their credit,” Moore wrote to the attorney general.

“There is nothing of legitimate public interest in these [personnel] files that outweighs the substantial risk of physical harm or fiscal harm to the officers involved.”

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