Chief Justice Says Decision Prevents Access to Police Records | Region



MONTGOMERY, Alabama (AP) – The Alabama Supreme Court ruled on Friday that a sheriff’s office did not have to turn over the files on a fatal shooting by a member of Parliament, a decision that has broadly interpreted an exemption for investigative files and aroused clearly articulated dissent. by the chief justice of the court.

“Suddenly today’s decision marks the end of public access to law enforcement files that are in any way linked to an investigation,” the judge wrote in Chief Tom Parker. “Body camera videos, dash cam videos, 9-1-1 recordings and anything remotely related to a crime or even a potential crime are now hidden from the public. After today , at least as far as law enforcement is concerned, the law might as well be called the Closed Files Act.

Lagniappe, a weekly media outlet, had filed a complaint after being denied files related to the 2017 shooting of motorist Jonathan Victor. The incident was investigated by the Baldwin County Major Crime Unit and a grand jury erased Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Matt Hunady on the set. Hunady shot Victor after a car accident in which Victor pulled off the freeway.

Judges upheld a lower court ruling in favor of the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office on Friday denying the files to Lagniappe. The judges ruled that the files fell under an exemption for investigative files.

Lagniappe had searched for recordings, including dashcam, bodycam and third party video; the audio of any 911 call or radio communication; photographs of the scene; autopsy records; and communications such as e-mail, text messages and other forms of messaging. The majority of the court wrote that the cases were covered by the exemption from investigation.

“All of the documents requested by Lagniappe relate to the incident involving Cpl. Hunady, who was the subject of a criminal investigation. The very wording of Lagniappe’s request, requesting all “recordings related to the shooting”, seeks such elements of investigation. … Thus, the investigative privilege exception applies, ”the judges wrote.

Law enforcement officials showed media video Body camera shot of the deputy who filmed Victor and video of a passerby after the grand jury decision. FOX10 reported that Victor approached Hunady while in a firing position despite several orders to withdraw. No guns were found on Victor or in his car, but he had a pair of scissors and investigators said his wrists were bleeding.

But Lagniappe co-editor Rob Holbert said the outlet only got the full files when they became evidence in a civil lawsuit filed by Victor’s family, and said they revealed “a set of disturbing circumstances which ultimately led to the death of Mr. Victor”.

Holbert said the court ruling “massively expands the definition of investigative documents in this case, to include video of the actual event that sparked a subsequent investigation.”

“This decision leaves it to the police to control the police. If this is Alabama’s definition of open cases, we are in a wounded world,” Holbert said.

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