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“We’re just going to go out and start murdering them…” said Wilmington, North Carolina cop Michael “Kevin” Piner, referring to black people with racial slurs and insults. – I can not wait. God, I can’t wait.
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It was just a small part of a series of violent phone conversations between Piner and his fellow cops James “Brian” Gilmore and Jessie E. Moore II. Their conversation was accidentally recorded by a dash cam and detected during a routine check in early June. On June 24, newly appointed police chief Donny Williams held a press conference to announce that the three officers was fired.
But it doesn’t stop there. In a highly unusual move, Williams also released documents from an internal investigation by Piner, Gilmore and Moore.
“Why are we releasing this information in this way and at this time? Because it’s right. Typically, privacy regulations only allow a small amount of information to be made public,” Williams said.
“However, in exceptional cases where it is necessary to maintain public confidence in city administration and police headquarters, additional information may be disclosed. This is the most unique and difficult case I have come across in My job. New police reforms locally and across the country.”
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Williams’ decision is notable because most of the time, police have been tight-lipped about public information – even what is required by law to be shared. With communities across the country calling for police to change — or stop — many are pushing for more transparency as an important step.
In the rural area between Greensboro and Durham, Alamanka, police killed two residents last month. The county commissioner added to the tension last June when he openly bragged about how he ‘beat the hell out’ of people when he was a police officer. The fight for Confederate monuments continues.
Four years ago, the Southern Poverty Law Center listed the local Neo-Confederate organization as a hate group, although it was removed from the SPLC’s hate map in 2018. In this context, AAC members fear that local police may be associated with hate groups. Citing a 2019 report released by the Center for Investigative Reporting, which found that thousands of law enforcement officers participated in online racist groups.
“We have broad, broad rules when it comes to law enforcement and some pretty big blind spots in our laws regarding public records.”
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“There have been two police-involved shootings [in Alamance County] in less than six months and the investigation and disclosure process doesn’t seem very transparent,” said Tamara Kersey-Brown, local minister and AAC Coalition leader.
While reporters were able to obtain records of excessive enforcement complaints against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter for George Floyd, North Carolina state law does not require law enforcement to release such documents.
North Carolina is one of 23 states, including Virginia and Mississippi, where police disciplinary records are largely confidential. Many southern states have vague laws that sometimes allow access to these records. Alabama, Georgia, and Florida are the southern states whose laws provide the most access to police disciplinary records.
Like most states, North Carolina has its own version of the federal Freedom of Information Act. But according to Brooks Fuller, director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition, there are “dark” and “gray” areas of public records law that prevent most people from accessing information.
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“We have broad, broad laws when it comes to law enforcement, and fairly large blind spots in our laws regarding public records,” Fuller said. “This makes it very difficult for citizens to sue to get anything back. Not only should we have access to the law, we own the law.
According to Fuller, the personnel law does not fully protect police records, so it sometimes helps in filing lawsuits in legal battles for public records. He added that while the state of North Carolina states that the public should have “freedom” of access to information, there are many safeguards that prevent these lawsuits from succeeding.
“In my experience, it flies out into space and they’re counting on you not to go any further.”
Gray areas in the law also make it difficult to report on other pressing issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Several members of a North Carolina federal agency have filed a lawsuit against the state over 26 unresolved media requests for records that could be useful in reporting on COVID-19. Governor Cooper said the delay was due to addressing the health crisis.
At the same time, North Carolina ranks low on public record and accountability, by the Association for Better Government and the National Freedom of Information Alliance and the recent state integrity investigation by the Center for Public Integrity.
Tina Vasquez, an investigative reporter from Durham, filed dozens of subpoenas with state and federal law enforcement agencies. Not a single request.
“In my experience it goes out into space and they’re counting on you not to go any further,” Vasquez said.
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“I feel like it’s so easy, they’re going to use it as a reason not to give you information,” she added. “Whether at the state or federal level, the lack of organizational understanding is a concern.
Vasquez also expressed concern that the changing media landscape is making it difficult for independent journalists to follow FOIA results.
“When it comes to transparency and open enrollment, we have to find ways to build the infrastructure and make the government transparent in the absence of traditional media,” she said.
, Michael Hewlett has worked for traditional media sources for more than 20 years and still faces the challenge of getting public information.
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“One of the things I’ve tried to do is make sure I understand the rules on public registration … to understand what I’m asking for and what I’m entitled to,” he said.
Hewlett acknowledged that there are occasions when the decision not to release public records is justified, such as when officials are concerned about protecting the accused’s right to a fair trial. But groups like the AAC say law enforcement is more likely to disclose details of past and present criminal records, even as they limit access to similar information from an officer’s past.
According to Hewlett, he had to educate law enforcement in several situations about public registration applications. In neighboring Davie County, when the deputy was fired, the sheriff’s office said the public had no right to see the dismissal letter.
Hewlett presented the facts. “If someone is fired and there’s a dismissal letter, it has to be made public … I can cite specific laws, and they’ve released the information within about a week.”
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However, he believes that the real key to public information is that anyone, even without the knowledge of a journalist, should have legal access.
Jeremy Borden, a North Carolina independent journalist and researcher, criticized the need for the requirement. Public funds. As an alternative, he pointed to the city of Charlotte, which has created an easy-to-use public online database.
“Any request for information is a failure of open government,” Borden said. “If more agencies and elected officials made [the information] available, the request would not be necessary.”
Borden, founder of the news website Untold Story, said he has experienced being denied access to public information across the country. “It’s sad because – or maybe this is the journalist in me – it should be public now. You shouldn’t have to fight that hard.
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Despite the failure of the Public Information Act, AAC members still have hope. Kersey Brown said she was personally moved by a friend whose son died in a police shooting without “responsibility”. The AAC gave local governments a strict deadline to respond to requests for transparency in law enforcement and said a “redirect” request from the police could be the next step in the request.
Antoinette Kerr is a nonprofit leader, journalist, author of Modern Media Relations for Nonprofits, publisher of Bold & Bright Media and lover of all things poetry. As a journalist, Kerr publishes articles through The Lexington Dispatch, Women AdvaNCe and The Public News Service.
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