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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Clearwater lawmaker files bill to block access to recordings of attacks like Pulse

Posted By on Wed, Feb 15, 2017 at 9:18 AM

  • Photo by Monivette Cordeiro
In response to shootings at the gay nightclub Pulse and the Fort Lauderdale airport, a new bill filed in the Florida House would block the release of a photograph, video or audio recording of a person's death.

The law already prohibits the dissemination of recordings by an agency of the "killing of a law enforcement officer who was acting in accordance with his or her official duties," but HB 661, filed state Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, changes the current wording to include the "killing of a person." The measure is retroactive and would apply to recordings that already exist.

"Photographs and video and audio recordings that depict or record the killing of any person are highly sensitive representations of the deceased which, if heard, viewed, copied, or publicized, could result in trauma, sorrow, humiliation, or emotional injury to the immediate family of the deceased and detract from how the deceased will be remembered," the bill says. "Widespread unauthorized dissemination of such photographs and video and audio recordings would subject the immediate family of the deceased to continuous injury."

The bill says the Florida Legislature is "gravely concerned" about the mass shooting at Pulse in Orlando that killed 49 people and the shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport that killed five people. After the Pulse massacre, several media outlets, including the Orlando Sentinel, sued the City of Orlando for access to hundreds of 911 calls made during the tragedy. A judge sided with the media outlets, and the City of Orlando made public audio recordings from that day, though some were withheld and in a few instances, only transcripts of the calls were released. Some family members of the Pulse victims were upset at the release of the calls and other public records associated with the massacre, such as autopsy reports. So far, the Pulse calls released have been able to give the public a glimpse of the response of law enforcement officials to the tragedy as some victims waited hours for help.

"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 says. "The Legislature also finds that dissemination of photographs and video and audio recordings of mass killings may also educe violent acts by the mentally ill or the morally corrupt."

The measure says crime scene reports, which are "less intrusive and injurious to the immediate family members of the deceased," would still be available to the public.

First Amendment Foundation president Barbara Petersen tells the Sentinel the proposal 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." As an example, Petersen gave the case of Martin Lee Anderson, a 14-year-old boy who was killed in 2006 at a juvenile detention center after guards beat him and made him smell ammonia. Before a video of his death was released, a medical examiner ruled that Anderson died from complications of sickle cell trait. A second autopsy revealed he died of suffocation from the actions of the guards. A Florida jury eventually acquitted seven guards and a nurse not guilty of manslaughter in Anderson's death.

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