Public access to video and audio recordings of someone’s death would be banned under a bill filed in the Legislature, attracting concerns from open-government and transparency advocates who say it would squelch oversight of law enforcement.
Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, which advocates for access to public records, said she thinks the bill would block the public’s ability to see controversial actions by law enforcement officials, such as suspected cases of excessive force or police shootings of suspects. “It precludes any opportunity for oversight of law enforcement,” Petersen said.
by Orlando Sentinel’s Gray Rohrer
February 14, 2017
Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, filed HB 661 last week. The bill cites the Pulse nightclub and Fort Lauderdale airport shootings as evidence the law needs to be changed.
“The Legislature is gravely concerned and saddened by the horrific mass killings perpetrated at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The Legislature is concerned that, if these photographs and recordings are released, terrorists will use them to inspire others to perpetrate killings, attract followers, and bring attention to their causes,” the bill reads.
The bill also is retroactive, meaning the future release of existing records would be banned.
But when reached for comment by a reporter, Latvala wouldn’t say why he filed the bill.
Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, which advocates for access to public records, said she thinks the bill would block the public’s ability to see controversial actions by law enforcement officials, such as suspected cases of excessive force or police shootings of suspects.
She cited the case of Martin Lee Anderson, 14, who died in 2006 while incarcerated at Bay County Boot Camp, a juvenile detention center. An initial autopsy said the death was linked to a sickle-cell trait disorder, but after a video of the death showing guards kicking Anderson and making him inhale ammonia was made public, a second autopsy was performed and showed he died of suffocation. Seven guards and a nurse were tried and acquitted of manslaughter.
“It precludes any opportunity for oversight of law enforcement,” Petersen said.
Latvala’s bill would overturn a law that was passed unanimously by lawmakers last year. In 2016 the Legislature voted to restrict public access only to recordings of the killings of law enforcement officers. That law took effect Oct. 1, after the Pulse massacre but before the Fort Lauderdale shooting.
The Legislature first restricted access to recordings of a person’s killing in 2011. Petersen said it was partly in response to the 2010 death of Dawn Brancheau, a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando who was killed by a killer whale named Tilikum, who died last month. The Orlando Sentinel sought but was not granted access to a video of the incident.
Latvala’s bill does not have a companion measure in the Senate yet. Bills that restrict access to public records require a two-thirds vote in both chambers to pass.
Public access to recordings related to killings such as the Pulse massacre and Fort Lauderdale shooting has not been automatic.
In the aftermath of the Pulse shooting by Islamic State-inspired shooter Omar Mateen that left 49 dead and at least 68 wounded, several news media outlets, including the Sentinel, sued the City of Orlando for the release of hundreds of 911 calls.
A judge eventually ruled most of the calls should be released, and the city made them available to the public in November. Calls to 911 made before 2:12 a.m. were blocked, and one other call was to be released only in transcript form, however.
A lawsuit attempting to recover attorneys’ fees in the case remains ongoing.
After Esteban Santiago killed five and wounded six others at the Fort Lauderdale airport last month, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office suspended Deputy Michael Dingman for leaking a video of the shootings to the press. [READ MORE]