A Tough Exemption to Battle In Florida…

This is a toughie, and it’s where FOI stalwarts really have their work cut out for them in making the case for openness:

Lawmakers are considering exempting photos, audio recordings and videos “that depict or record the killing of a person” from public records laws. The bill was spurred by last summer’s brutal murders of Tampa police Officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis.

A dashboard camera in a police cruiser captured the officers trying to arrest a passenger from a car that was pulled over in a routine traffic stop. On the video, in a split second, the man pulls a gun, shoots both the officers and bolts. The scene is clear and terrible and no doubt the strongest evidence for prosecutors seeking the death penalty for Dontae Morris.

This St. Pete Times editorial takes the best approach:

The bill under consideration would let a judge provide such viewings only if certain guidelines are met. It could also undercut a critical element of our justice system: public trust.

Consider the case of a police officer who shoots and kills someone, and how crucial it is for the citizens to know what happened and why. What’s good about a law that automatically keeps any video, photo or audio evidence secret?

Or consider the infamous video of the 14-year-old boy in the boot camp yard surrounded by drill instructors striking his arms and kneeing him in the back before his death — images that prompted the elimination of boot camps in Florida.

One more thing about the video of Martin Lee Anderson that day: It was also front and center for a jury that ultimately decided no crime was committed.

What happened in Tampa to two police officers was beyond tragic, and you can understand wanting to protect the grieving. But a better legacy is one that takes care to protect them while letting the public see the truth about what happened.

 

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