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Alabama Supreme Court Ruling called ‘Alabama’s Closed Record Act’

Published: Sep. 27, 2021 at 10:40 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - The end of public access to police records: that’s what one Alabama Supreme Court justice is calling the decision of the court.

Last week we told you the court ruled in favor of a police department, saying they didn’t have to share any records requested by a newspaper, including body camera footage.

The majority opinion pointed to the investigative privilege statute. That says departments do not have to share material related to an investigation.

However, Chief Justice Parker, the only dissenting opinion argued things that happen during and before a crime should be given to the public.

An attorney we spoke with Monday tells us this decision seals the deal on Alabama having the worst open record law in the country.

“Sheriff’s and cities have been given a blank check to deny pretty much any request by lawyers representing families like me, reporters or anybody else and just keep everything nice and secret,” Hank Sherrod said.

Those potential secrets is what attorney Hank Sherrod says is most concerning to him about the latest ruling from Alabama’s Supreme Court.

“It’s as if they think that if we just let the police officers kill people and maim them in secret that that won’t have any impact,” he said.

To be clear, departments can still release video any other recordings, but according to the ruling, it’s their choice.

A choice Sherrod says departments may only take if it benefits them.

“Their natural instinct is more to be protective of embarrassment of the city and the sheriff’s department and less to be concerned about folks being held accountable,” Sherrod said.

Sharon Tinsley with the Alabama Broadcasters Association says there should be no reason to not share body and dash-camera footage when an investigation is over.

“How can an Alabamian feel like they’re getting justice? Particularly after an investigation is closed. Why would you not be able to see the materials that went towards a judgment in a case. We have numerous states across the country who’ve realized the importance of opening records to the public,” Tinsley said.

In Florida and Tennessee, the only exceptions for sharing body camera footage with the public are if it shows the inside of someone’s home, or a place considered to be private, or a health care facility.

Tennessee also has an exception for children in schools.

“It’s their [Alabama Legislature] time to step up and see if we’re a state that has any kind of transparency for public officials.”

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