The decision, announced Wednesday, comes amid substantial public pressure to release documents believed to lay out the motive of the 28-year-old shooter, who was killed by police inside the Covenant School to end the March 27 attack. Metro Nashville Police Department officials notified the public in a terse statement.
“Due to pending litigation filed this week, the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department has been advised by counsel to hold in abeyance the release of records related to the shooting at the Covenant School pending orders or direction of the court,” read the statement.
Several media outlets, including The Daily Wire, have filed Freedom of Information Requests in an effort to win release of the documents. The requests were denied, with authorities citing a provision that allows them to withhold records relating to an ongoing case. But late last month, police officials said they were preparing to make the papers public.
The litigation cited by the department appeared to refer to a lawsuit filed by the Tennessee Firearms Association (TFA) asserting that the police had wrongfully denied its public records request. Ironically, that would mean that the department was refusing to release records because it’s being sued for refusing to release records — even though the lawsuit would presumably become moot, saving taxpayers money, if Police Chief John Drake followed through with a pledge he made to Gov. Bill Lee.
“The Covenant shooting was a tragedy beyond comprehension, & Tennesseans need clarity. We’ve been in touch with the Nashville Police Department, & today, Chief Drake assured me that documents & information regarding the shooter will be released to the public very soon,” Lee, a Republican, said on April 27.
TFA’s lawsuit questioned how there can be an open criminal case when the perpetrator is dead.
“Respondent’s denial failed to identify any underlying criminal proceeding, or even a potential defendant, such that the requested records would be a ‘case’ under Rule 16 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure,” the lawsuit said.
Tennessee resident Clata Brewer also sued over alleged public records violations related to the case on April 28.
The killer, who believed she was a man, killed three children and three adults inside the Christian school during a period when transgender activists were outraged at actions taken by Tennessee Republican lawmakers. The Daily Wire is not naming the shooter to avoid giving notoriety to killers. Since then, authorities have used a shifting series of reasons to delay releasing any information about the shooter.
According to the killer herself, her motive was not a mystery, and would be easily discerned by authorities.
“One day this will make more sense. I’ve left more than enough evidence behind,” she told a friend just before the shooting.
But as the Metro Nashville Police Department withheld those records, Metro Nashville Democrats portrayed the cause of the shooting in unambiguous terms: Guns. A police spokeswoman told The Daily Wire that the advice to withhold the records came from Metro Legal, Nashville’s law department. Neither Metro Legal associate directors Laura Fox and Wllison Bussell nor Deputy Director Tom Cross provided any information about the reasoning in response to Daily Wire questions.
Following the shooting, Justin Jones, a state lawmaker from the Nashville area, joined with protesters to disrupt a proceeding of the state assembly and turn it into a demand for gun control, even shouting into a bullhorn on the Capitol floor. He was expelled from the body as a result, but the Metro Council, which was tasked with filling the temporary vacancy, voted to fill it with Jones himself.
John I. Harris III, the head of TFA, told The Daily Wire he is skeptical about the reasoning behind withholding the documents.
“You hate to jump to that conclusion that this is a conspiracy, but right now the only answer they’ve given is there’s an ongoing criminal investigation,” Harris said. “I guess theoretically it could be an investigation into someone who’s now deceased, but for what purpose? They are now beyond prosecutorial effect.”
“The Democrat legislators that were expelled and the one that was targeted for expulsion were clearly engaged in a rally that disrupted the General Assembly and was driven by the Covenant shooting and was seeking outright gun control,” he added.
Democrats and Republicans alike have drafted bills that seem to imply various causes for the shooting, ranging from easy access to guns to prescription medications.
“We’ve already seen three bills, a Democrat red flag bill that’s draconian, one the governor filed that we think is unconstitutional, and a third one that says if you’re taking a prescription for these 10 medications, you can’t get the medications unless you sign a waiver saying you can’t purchase firearms,” Harris said.
But the actual cause of the shooting could be more definitively known if police would simply release records, Harris said. Authorities said they uncovered a “manifesto” and diary entries.
Harris said that mental illness could be the cause of the shooting, but it could also be political terrorism committed by a sane person committed to an ideology.
“The 9/11 Twin Towers, anybody can make the argument that someone who decides to fly a plane into a tower is insane, but were they insane or were they just a terrorist? To their like-kind believers, they weren’t insane, they were fulfilling an agenda of their belief system,” he said. “Was this insanity or a vendetta? Because of the lack of disclosure, we don’t know, but the legislators should know if they’re going to use it to consider legislation.”