Nashville releases records soon after school shooting. Not so much with MSU
- Nashville released video of the response to April 3 school shooting the next day, along with frantic 911 calls
- Two months after the Feb. 13 mass shooting at MSU, governments are still working on the release of crucial information
- The difference points to the weakness of Michigan’s open records laws
One day after the horrific school shooting in Nashville last week, local officials released body-cam video showing police quickly tracking down and killing the shooter.
Nashville police also released video of the shooter entering Covenant School, where three students and three staffers were killed, and some of the first frantic calls to 911.
Nearly two months after a shooting spree at Michigan State University, meanwhile, the public is still waiting for similar details to be released, even though the gunman in the Feb. 13 attack that killed three students and wounded five others shot himself to death the night of the spree.
- Michigan State University 911 calls: Students broke windows to escape shooting
- MSU offered active violence training. Few attended before shooting
- MSU shooting survivor: I met ‘pure evil,’ played dead and pleaded for life
Lansing police have yet to release body-cam video from the encounter with shooter Anthony McRae, who shot himself as officers confronted him in Lansing hours after the shooting.
And other details remain unknown, including who was shot and where, while one victim has still not been identified.
One major reason: Michigan’s open records laws allow governmental bodies to delay disclosure while charging for the collection and redaction of records.
“That’s where we end up in these ridiculous positions,” said Jennifer Dukarski, assistant general counsel for the Michigan Press Association. “It’s about one of the worst (open records laws) in the nation.”
A month after the shooting, Michigan State University released the note McRae wrote before the rampage as well as video of him entering one building, while Ingham County officials have released the first 10 911 calls.
But much more information is still hung up in open records requests that will cost thousands of dollars to acquire. One Bridge Michigan request, still being processed, will cost over $1,200.
Emily Gerkin Guerrant, a Michigan State vice president and spokesperson, told Bridge on Thursday that the university has received 36 different information requests regarding the shooting and that nearly two dozen have already been filled.
She said more responses are forthcoming this week and next.
“I realize the FOIA process doesn’t always move as quickly as reporters would like, but we feel it’s important for the sensitive material in these requests,” Guerrant said in an email to Bridge.
Dukarski acknowledged the trauma that the campus community experienced but said that in the wake of the Oxford High School shooting on Nov. 30, 2021, and others across the country, people “want to know what happened. We want to understand.”
“It is fantastic that Michigan State is following the letter of the law and the procedures (to fulfill records requests),” she said. “However, with this it seems they are following the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law.”
“This is truly a subject of extreme public interest,” she said.
Dukarski and others said that Nashville authorities likely released their records to help prove that police acted quickly — in contrast to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two adults were gunned down in a school in May and where police waited over an hour before confronting the shooter.
Nashville police “were in a position that they were happy to have nothing to hide,” Dukarski said.
In Tennessee, the release of the video is routine though the timing is not.
The Metro Nashville police typically will release body-cam footage but not always as quickly as they did last week. And sometimes, they have declined to release unedited video, as they did in 2021 after an officer fatally shot a 23-year-old.
In Memphis, police there took three weeks to release video of the beating of Tyre Nichols in January. Five officers have been charged in connection with Nichols death.
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