Fla. gov. signs law denying access to records of killings

Emily Peterson | Freedom of Information | Feature | June 3, 2011

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Thursday that exempts any photographs, video or audio recordings that depict or record the "killing of a person" from the mandatory disclosure requirements under the state’s public records laws.

The bill, which Florida media organizations have fought against, would allow access to such recordings by certain immediate family members, local government entities, and state and federal agencies. Members of the public could get access to these recordings only upon a showing that "good cause," as defined in the exemption, exists for disclosure.

Naples Daily News Editor Phil Lewis said in his paper in May that the bill “will make it more difficult for the public to determine what actually happened when death is involved.”

Lewis pointed to the case of a 14-year-old boy assigned to a Florida paramilitary boot camp after he stole his grandmother’s car. He died while exercising at the camp. The medical examiner said the death was due to natural causes because he had sickle-cell anemia. But a surveillance video showed that he was pushed too hard by camp leaders. A second autopsy showed that death was caused by suffocation. As a result, a law was passed to close the boot camps in Florida and manslaughter charges were filed.

“That, we fear, would not have happened had [this bill] been law” at the time, he said.