Nashville court grapples with details on school shooter that were leaked to media

A media organization is due in court Monday after publishing details from leaked documents about the shooter who killed six people at a Nashville elementary school in March 2023, while the outlet sues for those records and others to be released to the public.

The hearing, ordered by Nashville Chancellor I’Ashea Myles, has led to outcry not only from Star News Digital Media and Editor-in-Chief Michael Leahy, but also from open government advocates and Tennessee lawmakers.

Leahy’s attorney argued the court proceeding would violate his due process rights and infringe on First Amendment protections after his outlet, The Tennessee Star, reported on records leaked to them about the shooter at The Covenant School.

Initially, the judge ordered Leahy and attorneys to explain in court why the recent work involving leaked documents has not violated court protection of records that could subject them to contempt proceedings and sanctions. The judge later denied a request by Leahy to cancel the hearing but said no witnesses would testify.

The public records lawsuit by the conservative Star News and other plaintiffs remains tied up in court after more than a year. A group of Covenant School parents have joined the lawsuit, arguing none of the documents should ever be released because they could inspire copycats and retraumatize their children.

Though the investigative file remains officially closed to the public’s view, two prominent rounds of evidence about the shooter’s writings have leaked to media outlets.

Police have said they could not determine who was responsible for the first leak. While they look into the second, a lieutenant has drawn a connection to a former colleague without directly accusing him of the leak.

In a court declaration Friday, Nashville Police Lt. Alfredo Arevalo said his office led an investigation of the first leak. A former lieutenant, Garet Davidson, was given a copy of the criminal investigative file that was stored in a safe in his office and only Davidson had the key and safe combination, Arevalo said.

Davidson has left the force. Separately, he filed a well-publicized complaint alleging the police department actively lobbied to gut the city’s community oversight board, as well as a number of other misconduct claims.

In his declaration, Arevalo noted Davidson has spoken about details from the Covenant investigative file on Leahy’s radio show and another program.

Arevalo wrote that he is “appalled” by the leak and “saddened by the impact that this leak must have on the victims and families of the Covenant school shooting.”

The Associated Press left messages for phone numbers believed to be associated with Davidson.

The shooter who killed three 9-year-old children and three adults at Covenant, a private Christian school, left behind at least 20 journals, a suicide note and an unpublished memoir, according to court filings.

The city of Nashville has argued it doesn’t have to release the documents during an active police investigation. The plaintiffs have countered there is no meaningful criminal investigation underway since the shooter, Audrey Hale, was killed by police.

A few pages of one journal were leaked to a conservative commentator who posted them online in November. Police say the shooter may have been a transgender man, which has been a point of focus for conservative media personalities.

The judge in the public records case previously showed concern about possible leaks. In February filings, Myles ordered the parties not to directly quote or reproduce any leaked documents during case proceedings, threatening sanctions such as contempt of court for any “efforts to usurp” court orders by the parties, attorneys or involved third parties.

Leahy’s attorney for Monday’s hearing, Daniel Horwitz, wrote that the Star’s stories don’t violate any previous court orders and the purpose of the hearing is so vague that Leahy shouldn’t risk testifying. He said any attempts to restrict publishing about legally obtained documents, or to compel the disclosure of anonymous sources, would violate legal protections for reporting.

The judge responded that she wants to “ascertain the status and veracity of any alleged leak” and clarified there would be no witness testimony. If any violations of court orders are found, she plans to appoint an attorney to investigate and help with the contempt process.

In the public records lawsuit, the plaintiffs include news outlets, a gun rights group, a law enforcement nonprofit and state Sen. Todd Gardenhire. Star News Digital Media also is suing the FBI in federal court for the documents’ release.


Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

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