NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — In a legal filing obtained by News 2, Covenant School parents have asked a judge to prevent certain documents related to the school shooting from being released, including all the shooter’s writings, drawings, and maps sealed.
One expert said the judge’s decision could change crime-related public records access in the future.
In the 18-page document, an attorney for the Covenant parents argued the shooter’s writings, the children’s identities and pictures, and documents related to the school’s safety should not be made public because of the potential to inspire other copycat shooters.
“We are in ‘uncharted waters’ because we have a unique opportunity following a mass murder at an elementary school to prevent the shooter’s writings and anything else that is likely to inspire future attacks from being released and causing pain and suffering to the victims,” the lawyers wrote.
The attorney goes on to argue if the documents were made public, the victims would be subject to abuse, harassment, and intimidation, violating their Constitutionally-protected rights.
However, Deborah Fisher, the executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government told News 2 the judge ruling in favor of that argument would be a first for a public records case.
“We haven’t seen the courts use the victims’ rights that are in the Constitution as an exception to the public records law,” Fisher said.
Fisher said the public records law applies to records either created or obtained by a governmental agency. There are certain exceptions under the law, including when it comes to juveniles and deceased parties, according to Fisher.
If the judge rules in favor of the parents, Fisher said it could set a precedent for who decides what information the public can legally access.
“It would change what police would be able to release right after a crime like they did in this one which included their body camera footage. It might impact what can be released in a public court; it might impact what can be released when the case is over,” Fisher said.
Fisher added certain questions about the public records law could pop up depending on the judge’s ruling.
“What happens when three parents of 100 don’t want something released, but 97 do? What if there is disagreement, in other words?” Fisher said. “Which parents get to decide if the decision is in the hands of the victims?”
“Those are the types of questions that might come up in the future if the courts decide that victims can control what gets released by police about a crime.”
The judge will hear both sides on June 8.