Parents of students at Nashville’s Covenant School can intervene in a consolidated lawsuit asking that documents and records related to the March 27 mass shooting be released, a Tennessee judge ruled, giving the parents a say in the potential release of the shooter’s writings and other evidence.
The group of parents “stand in a unique position stepping into the shoes of their minor children,” Davidson County Chancery Court Judge I’Ashea Myles wrote in an order issued late Wednesday, noting the children were not old enough to assert their own claims.
Myles separately granted motions to intervene from The Covenant School and Covenant Presbyterian Church, which runs the private Christian school where Audrey Hale fatally shot three 9-year-olds and three staff members. The judge wrote that the church’s and school’s status as private entities would typically prevent the plaintiffs from having access to information that may have been collected during the investigation.
The case involves requests for public records filed by gun rights advocates and news organizations seeking to compel Nashville’s city government to disclose writings left behind by the shooter that might shed light on the motive for the attack and related documents – which could include the shooter’s journals and a suicide note.
Authorities have said the writings show Hale, who was killed by police, “acted totally alone” in carrying out the “calculated and planned” massacre.
The overlapping legal claims come after Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s call for a special legislative session in August to address gun control, raising the stakes of how those writings might be interpreted amid America’s unending gun violence epidemic.
The Covenant School shooting victims (top row) Katherine Koonce, Mike Hill, Cynthia Peak, (bottom row) Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney. - From The Covenant School/Covenant Presbyterian Church/Facebook/KMOV/Dieckhaus Family
The National Police Association, the Tennessee Firearms Association and the Tennessean newspaper separately sued after the Metro Nashville Police Department denied open records requests for the writings, citing a state Supreme Court ruling that state law provides an exception to the public records act by allowing police to withhold the release of information in a pending criminal case except to a defendant.
The plaintiffs argued the exception does not apply, because the shooter was killed by police and law enforcement officials have indicated there is no pending criminal prosecution. Myles has ordered that the cases be consolidated.
The church, the school and the families – among them the parents of the children killed – then asked for involvement in the case, with Covenant Presbyterian saying its intervention was warranted to protect its interests and employees. Parents supported the motion, citing their fear of “copycat attacks.”
Myles’ ruling Wednesday acknowledged affidavits that said there is an “ongoing and active criminal investigation,” which, according to the order, “may lead to the discovery of co-conspirators and additional crimes and that ‘harmful and irreversible consequences’ could result if information is released prematurely.”
Myles ordered the parents, church and school to file briefs outlining their “claims and/or defenses.”
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