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VOL. 41 | NO. 16 | Friday, April 21, 2017

Tennessee House OKs bill opening officer shooting records

By Sam Stockard

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The House overwhelmingly approved legislation Monday requiring records about officer-involved shooting deaths be open to the public.

Sponsored by Rep. G.A. Hardaway and Sen. Lee Harris, both Memphis Democrats, the move opens the curtain on Tennessee Bureau of Investigation records, which are exempt from the Tennessee Open Records Act and confidential. Generally they are disclosed to the public only through a court order.

The legislation requires that TBI investigative records on officer-involved shooting deaths and injuries to be made public after the investigation and prosecution are finished. The House passed the measure 91-0 Monday night.

Hardaway noted Shelby County and the nation have had numerous cases in which investigative files were not released, situations that became the focal point of civil disobedience because people such as the victim’s family and other advocates were unable to review investigative files and find out how cases were brought to completion.

“The people need to have confidence the system is working and it’s working for them,” Hardaway said after the bill’s passage.

He explained the measure would not interfere with the rights of district attorneys general to release information prior to the completion of an investigation. The bill had bipartisan support and the backing of the law enforcement and legal community, Hardaway added.

The measure passed in the Senate 30-0.

“I would submit that there is no greater government action than the taking of a life and no more legitimate public interest in government-produced information,” Harris said. “We shouldn’t keep these records confidential from the public after the investigation and prosecution are concluded.”

Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican, who supported the bill, said on the Senate floor, “We need to make this information public to exonerate law enforcement officers who are at times wrongfully accused of wrongdoing, and we need to make this information public when there is wrongdoing so the public will have confidence in our law enforcement.”

Harris bill sees setback

Legislation by Sen. Harris providing immunity from arrest for people seeking medical assistance for more than one overdose ran into opposition Monday from the full Senate.

Senators voted 10-13 on the bill, a result that doesn’t kill the legislation but sends it back to the Senate Calendar Committee.

Harris argued the bill is needed because people are overdosing as a result of addiction.

“It’s giving incentive for someone to call police,” he said.

Harris pointed out people who are not overdosing, such as drug dealer or someone in the house where a person overdoses, are protected from arrest while the person who is overdosing has limited protection.

In support of the bill, Sen. Jeff Yarbro, a Nashville Democrat, contended some areas such as Rutherford County saw 12 overdoses in 24 hours from a dangerous batch of drugs, a situation that might have been stopped by such a bill.

However, Sen. Ken Yager, a Kingston Republican, said the measure would not put people who survive overdoses in contact with any sort of recovery program.

“It doesn’t require them to do anything but go back to bad behavior,” Yager said.

Sen. Mark Green, a physician, argued that a person doesn’t have to be an addict to suffer an overdose.

The House version of the bill is sponsored by Rep. Craig Fitzhugh and was to be considered in Tuesday in the Health Committee.

Sam Stockard can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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