Tennessee judge denies release of Covenant School shooter’s writings to the public

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A Tennessee judge on July 4 denied the release of the Covenant School shooter‘s writings, stating that doing so might present a security risk to the Nashville private school.

The ruling came in response to Brewer, et al. vs. Metropolitan Government of Nashville, et al., in which several parties, including the National Police Association and Tennessee Firearms Association, sued the Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD) for access to records related to the Nov. 27, 2023, school shooting that left six dead, including Mike Hill, 61; Cynthia Peak, 61; Katherine Koonce, 60; and 9-year-olds Hallie Scruggs, Evelyn Dieckhaus and William Kinney.

“School shootings and violence have unfortunately become commonplace in our society. Access to immediate information has also become a societal expectation which we all share,” Davidson County Chancery Court Judge I’Ashea Myles wrote in the 60-page order. “However, there are occasions when this immediate access to and demand for information must be balanced and moderated to safeguard the integrity of our legal system, particularly the criminal legal system.”

She added that during a pending criminal investigation, “Tennessee courts have determined that unfettered access to every record at any time does not serve to uphold the system of justice that we all depend upon to ensure that the criminal legal system and investigations remain fair and impartial for every involved person.”

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“In this case, the Tennessee General Assembly has set forth both state law exceptions and statutory which will prevent the disclosure of materials held by the Respondent not only to preserve the criminal legal system and the integrity of ongoing investigations but also to keep from public view information which is related to school security coming from any source,” Myles continued.

Deceased school shooter and former Covenant student Audrey Hale, who identified as a trans male named Aiden Hale, had dozens of pages of writing and artwork that were initially in the possession of her parents until they transferred ownership of Hale’s estate to the families of victims included as intervenors in the lawsuit. 

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MNPD officers fatally shot Hale inside the school the morning of the shooting.

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No records held by the MNPD “shall be disclosed at this time,” Myles ruled after months of litigation between police, victims’ families and journalists requesting access to the shooter’s writings and other materials.

READ THE ORDER

The judge wrote that the court “would be hard pressed to find that the original and complied writings … and artwork of an individual whose intent and plan was to cause and inflict harm on the innocent in a school setting would not be related to school security and thus exempt from disclosure.”

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MNPD argued that while the assailant is deceased, an investigation into the shooting remains ongoing and could result in future criminal action. The police department also said “certain portions of the requested records may be released without compromising the open criminal investigation,” the judge noted.

Meanwhile, victims’ families and the Covenant School, who were listed as intervenors in the lawsuit, argued “that all of the material and information held by Respondent in this matter relate to school security and should be exempt from disclosure completely, as the release of any information will inspire copycat attacks and thus all of the information is related in some form to school security,” Myles wrote.

In November of last year, authorities became aware of a purported leak of crime scene photographs of the killer’s handwritten notes.

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In March, a federal judge ordered the FBI to grant public records requests for Hale’s so-called “manifesto” that police found in her vehicle after the shooting. The FBI had refused such requests, arguing that doing so “could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.”

Attorneys representing the parent company of the Tennessee Star, a local newspaper, which sued the FBI for access to Hale’s manifesto, said “the public has an urgent right to know why this tragedy happened, how future events may be prevented, and what policies should be in place to address this and other similar tragedies,” lawyers for the newspaper wrote in a federal complaint. 

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“[The] FBI has no right to retain a monopoly on this information,” they wrote. 

Critics of the Tennessee and federal government decisions not to release documents believe Hale’s manifesto may reveal the shooter’s motive to target the school and kill adults and children alike.

Fox News’ Michael Ruiz contributed to this report.