A case involving the death of a 17-year-old Georgia student athlete should offer great insight as Connecticut lawmakers as they consider whether crime scene photos should be public documents in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last year in Newtown.
In June, the Connecticut General Assembly voted to make all police murder scene photos and video exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Parents and family of the 26 Sandy Hook victims had urged the change, fearing that out-of-state online news outlets or websites would publish graphic images from them.
Media and First Amendment advocates argued that responsible news outlets never do this, and that such records must be public as a key safeguard against abuse of police and government power.
Well, in the Georgia case, CNN obtained photos of the death of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson. They didn’t publish them, but they did bring them to experts who contradicted a medical examiner’s office report and police decision that the death was accidental. Police are still insisting the case is closed, but I’d bet this is going to be the start of a murder investigation. If Georgia had exempted these kinds of photos from the Freedom of Information Act, someone would have gotten away with murder.