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Bill Exempts Photos, Video of Death From Public Record

By: Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida
By: Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, April 7, 2011 --

Photos, videos or audio recordings that depict someone dying would no longer be publicly available under a bill gaining momentum in the Legislature.

The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee voted 13-0 on Wednesday in favor of a bill (HB 411) that exempts videos, photos or audio recordings depicting someone dying from Florida’s open records laws. It matches an existing law that exempts autopsy photos or videos from open records laws.

The family of the deceased would be able to access the recordings under the proposal. For anyone besides the family to view a recording of someone dying, a court order would have to be issued by a judge showing good cause.

The bill sponsor, Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, said she was prompted to file the bill after the deaths of Tampa police officers Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis, which was caught on a police dashboard camera.

The officers were shot in June 2010 by a man who was pulled over in a routine traffic stop.

The families of the victims were upset about the prospect of that video becoming publicly available, Burgin said.

“I went to the funeral of the two officers and I just think that…the three children were a main motivation,” Burgin said. “The privacy of a family and the death of a loved one is something the child should never be faced with.”

Burgin was joined by Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, in support of the bill. “I don’t want a child whose father is a fallen officer to go to school one day and have a kid tell him, ‘Did you know you can watch your Dad’s murder online?’ ” Cruz said she doesn’t want children to stumble upon a video of a parent’s death on YouTube.

The First Amendment Foundation, which works to keep government records open, argues that allowing videos taken by police or at a taxpayer-funded entity to be viewed by the public can help shed light on the circumstances surrounding a death.

In the case of the death of Martin Lee Anderson at a Bay County boot camp, a video taken at the youth detention center showed Anderson being coerced into exercise by guards and later collapsing and dying.

The outrage from that case led to the closing of the state’s five juvenile detention centers.

Burgin’s bill has one more committee stop before the House floor. A similar bill (SB 416) in the Senate was approved unanimously last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It has two more committee stops.


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