TBI investigative file released in Memphis police shooting case

The Shelby County District Attorney has posted on her website TBI’s investigative files into the shooting death of 19-year-old Darrius Stewart by a Memphis police officer in what may be one of the first times such TBI files have been made public.

See Memphis Commercial Appeal story here: TBI files in Darrius Stewart case now open for public review

Shelby County Chancellor James R. Newsom III  ruled last week that the normally confidential files could be released after the district attorney, Amy Weirich, and TBI Director Mark Gwyn petitioned the court, saying that releasing the files would be in the public’s interest.

Weirich had recommended that the Shelby County grand jury  indict Memphis police officer Connor Schilling on the criminal offenses of voluntary manslaughter and employing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. But the grand jury declined to indict.

“…promptly releasing the Investigative File and giving the public timely access to information about such an emotionally charged situation will function to boost transparency and promote accountability in the government,” Weirich wrote in her petition. (See coverage of the hearing in: Court authorizes release of TBI files in Darrius Stewart case)

Schilling’s attorney argued that the investigative file should not be released because the officer could still be prosecuted federally.

Newsom ordered the release, along with redactions of confidential information including social security numbers, personal phone numbers, bank information, medical information and notes produced by attorneys protected by work product doctrine.

Read Newsom’s order here: Judge James Newsom’s order to release investigative file of TBI

The court noted that TBI said it has never made a direct request to a Tennessee court of record to disclose the contents of a TBI investigative file.  But Weirich and Gwyn argued that the exemption that makes TBI files confidential provided a “path for release” through a subpoena or an order of the court. The exemption includes this language: “The information contained in such records shall be disclosed to the public only in compliance with a subpoena or an order of a court of record.”

Newsom said in his ruling that a February 2015 appellate case out of Knoxville (State v. Cobbins) in which parents of the slain couple Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom unsuccessfully sought access to portions of a TBI file did not apply. In that case, a criminal court denied the parents’ request to unseal TBI investigation records into misconduct of the trial judge. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed, saying the parents had no statutory or constitutional right to intervene in the criminal proceeding.

See: TBI files can be secret even when entered as evidence, Criminal Appeals Court said

“This action presents the converse of the circumstances in Cobbins,” Newsom wrote in his order. “In Cobbins, the private citizen petitioners sought to overcome the statutory exemption from disclosure granted to TBI investigative files. In such an instance…there can be no balancing between the interests of the private petitioners in public disclosure, and that of the State in continued confidentiality. Here, however, the State, in a case of first impression, seeks…to obtain ‘an order of a court of record’ to release the TBI File.”

The documents are now available on the district attorney’s website: Darrius Stewart shooting death investigation.

 

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