Experts tell ABC News that a Tennessee judge’s unprecedented ruling giving parents in the Nashville school mass shooting the legal right to object to the release of police evidence could reveal what law enforcement officers do about future violent crime. can have a chilling effect on it.
Davidson County Chancery Court Judge I’Ashe L. Miles ruled Wednesday that parents of students killed or traumatized by the March 27 massacre at Covenant School have a legal right to intervene on behalf of their children in lawsuits seeking evidence, including evidence. Are. Shooter’s writings be released to the public.
“There’s no roadmap on this,” Deborah Fischer, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition on Open Government, a nonprofit that advocates for transparency in government, told ABC News.
The parents of the convent school have sued media companies, Tennessee Firearms Association Inc. and filed a motion for hearing in a now-consolidated lawsuit by a private investigator from the National Police Association against the Nashville metropolitan government to force the police department to make public evidence. In the ongoing investigation into the school shooting, which killed three 9-year-old students and three adults, including the head of the school.
Chancery Court Judge I’Asia L. during a status hearing involving the release of records in the March Covenant School shooting case on May 22, 2023 in Nashville Miles comments from the bench.
George Walker IV / AP
A lawyer for the parents told a court hearing before Miles this week that the parents never wanted to see any of the police evidence made public, especially the journals of the alleged shooter, 28-year-old Audrey Hale, who killed by the police.
Police have not commented on the motive for the attack.
Attorney Eric Osborne, who said he represents 100 families affected by the school shooting, argued during Monday’s hearing that parents fear the evidence, if made public, could inspire copycat attacks. and inflict additional pain on the children who survived the stampede.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to enter this matter on behalf of our children and loved ones,” Brent Leatherwood, a Covenant School parent who attended Monday’s hearing, said in a statement to the New York Times. “Our intent is to protect our families and do everything we can to prevent this terror from spreading to another community.”
In their motion, the parents cited the Tennessee Crime Victims Bill of Rights, which states that victims “have the right to be free from harassment, intimidation, and abuse in the criminal justice system.”
“Let me be clear, if she (Miles) decides that victims have a right to withhold access to police records, what a slippery slope it will be,” Fischer said. “I think we’re about to hear, according to what attorneys said, testimony from witnesses that say why the writings of mass shooters shouldn’t be released.”
Myles has set a “show cause” hearing for June 8 for attorneys on both sides of the issue to present arguments.
A still image from surveillance video shows what the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department describes as mass shooting suspect Audrey Elizabeth Hale inside The Covenant School carrying a weapon on March 27, 2023 in Nashville, Tenn.
Metropolitan Nashville Police Department.
Osborne said several Covenant School parents want to address the court as to why they do not want the records released. He also said he wanted to call expert witnesses to explain how releasing such information could leave victims open to “harassment, intimidation and abuse”.
In addition to the parents, Myles granted the Covenant Presbyterian Church and its school the right to intervene in the litigation.
During a hearing Monday, attorneys for the church and school argued that they do not want evidence seized in the investigation released because the materials include the school’s safety plan and other documents related to the health and Social Security records of school and church employees. Are included.
In his decision, Myles wrote that the “court was rocked” by the argument that public release of sensitive private documents could have “damaging and irreversible consequences”.
“We’re interested because we’re used to police being able to release things about crimes,” Fischer said. “We don’t know what would happen if victims could, basically, stop the release of police information, any police information. If that were the case, police’s hands would be tied if they released information without the victim’s consent.”
A woman pauses while visiting a memorial at the entrance of The Covenant School on March 29, 2023 in Nashville, Tenn.
Wade Payne/AP, File
Fischer said that two days after the mass shooting, the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department released body camera footage of police officers charging into the school and killing the shooter. Police officers also released surveillance camera footage of Hale following him down the hallways, firing an AR-15-style rifle through the school’s glass doors, and shooting the victims.
Fisher said, “Even though it’s graphic and scary to watch, the police released it and it made them look like heroes and they really went into that situation, and you can see what the police had to do.” ” “That video of the shooter going through the school, I don’t know what parents think about it being released.”
John Lott, president of the National Gun Rights Advocacy Group Crime Prevention Research Center, told ABC News it is “incredibly unusual” that the writings of the Covenant school shooter haven’t already been released.
Lott said, “To me, the important thing is to know the motivation behind why the person chose the particular location to attack.”
Coven’s parents’ motion to release police evidence was filed two days after more than 60 members of the Tennessee House Republican caucus signed a letter sent to Chief John Drake of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department. Release Hale’s writing. The lawmakers wrote to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee calling on the General Assembly to hold a special session to consider public safety legislation in response to the shooting.
The letter states, “For this special session to be successful, it is paramount that we understand the behavior and motives of the Covenant School offender.”