Senate approves bill to open TBI records in police-involved shootings

The Senate this week voted 30-0 to make TBI investigative records in police-involved shootings open to the public after the “prosecutorial function” is finished.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has an exemption in the Tennessee Public Records Act that allows it keep its records confidential even after the case is over, but this legislation would create an exception for police-involved shootings.

“This is extremely important legislation for Tennessee,” said state Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, who signed on to the bill as a co-sponsor and who carried similar legislation last year. (see video) “We need to make this information public to exonerate our law enforcement officers who are at times wrongfully accused of wrongdoing. And we need to make this information public when there is wrongdoing so that the public can have confidence in our law enforcement in this state. This bill does both of those things.”

In addition to lifting confidentiality, the legislation gives the district attorney the authority to release parts of the TBI investigative record prior to the end of the case as well.

Here’s what the bill says:

(a) After completion of an investigation into an officer-involved shooting death by the Tennessee bureau of investigation and after the completion of the prosecutorial function by the district attorney general, notwithstanding § 10-7-504 to the contrary, the investigative record of the incident shall become a public record pursuant to title 10, chapter 7. Notwithstanding § 10-7-504, the district attorney general may disclose all or part of the investigative record to the public prior to the record becoming a public record as provided in this section.

(b) For purposes of this section, “officer-involved shooting death” means a death that results from a shooting by a law enforcement officer that occurs while the officer is on-duty or is off-duty while performing activities that are within the scope of the law enforcement officer’s duties.

State Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis, presenting legislation in the Senate Judiciary Committee to open up TBI records in police-involved shootings.

State Sen. Lee Harris, R- Memphis, brought the legislation and explained “prosecutorial function” on the Senate floor.

“According to testimony we heard in (the Senate Judiciary) committee, this would include both pre-trial functions like investigation stage, charging decisions and presentation to the grand jury, and other trial related functions, including a plea, a trial and opportunities for post-conviction relief. In short, once all these functions are completed, the prosecutorial function is complete and the disclosure could be made. The bill also allows the prosecutor to release these reports at any time at the prosecutor’s discretion.”

See video from the Senate Judiciary Committee, which heard testimony from Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, the TBI and the District Attorneys General Conference.

The bill is scheduled for the House floor on Monday, where it is carried by state Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis.

2 thoughts on “Senate approves bill to open TBI records in police-involved shootings

  1. John Stern

    In Tennessee, the level of governmental translucence is often very limited. If not for the work of Deborah Fisher, a darker shadow would be cast over the information that the citizens of Tennessee have already paid for.

    This can be counted in the win column but I am concerned about the overall operating, data management and accessibility of images from Police cameras.

  2. Pingback: TCOG's 2018 Legislative Report - Tennessee Coalition for Open Government

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