TN Lawmakers Fail To Change Laws That Shield Victims And Public From Truth

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(Memphis) WREG is holding those accountable in your quest for transparency in your government.

It's been more than five months since WREG first told you about the cloud of secrecy hovering over TBI investigations.

Current laws prevent the agency from giving out information, but some lawmakers say more transparency is needed. Yet so far, the push for change has been all talk and no action.

"There were several discussions and several panels that talked about it during the course of the year," said Memphis state representative, John Deberry.

Lawmakers did what they do best. They talked the talk, but nobody walked the walk and filed a bill to override the secrecy that shrouds many state agencies.

It's something Deberry can change.

"I think we're going to have to make a determination that the TBI along with probably several other agencies in the state are going to have to be just a little bit more forthcoming on some information that the media and sometimes the victims want," said Deberry.

When TBI is given a criminal case, it can choose what it wants to make public and what should remain private.

In Memphis, there was the case of the young female prosecutor found badly beaten in her home, but because TBI investigated, the public never learned what they discovered.

Then there's Shirley Thompson, the mother of 15-year-old Justin, who was shot and killed by an off-duty Memphis police officer in 2012. Ms. Thompson, a cancer patient, died never knowing details of TBI's investigation.

"While the public information act does protect them from certain revelations, perhaps they need to look at internal policies as to what they can reveal and how fast they can reveal without all the court battles and the adversarial relationships," said Deberry.

Last year, District Attorney Amy Weirich told us why the secrecy is sometimes necessary.

"You don't want to jeopardize what might become a viable prosecution by making all this information known to the community and also to protect people," Weirich said.

Some say other state agencies like the Department of Children's Services are also hiding behind the current law when it comes to information about children who've died in state custody.

Deberry says he recognizes it's time for someone to step up.

"If you're asking me the same question in 2012, 2013, 2014. Obviously we haven't fixed the problem or answered the questions," said Deberry.

Deberry says he'll spend the rest of the year exploring a bill to change the current law so in the 2015 legislative session, there might finally be more transparency in government agencies.

The public can try to get information about TBI investigations through subpoena or court order, but WREG has yet to find a case where either have been granted.


  • John T. Dwyer

    If history teaches us anything it’s that those in power, with the power, will always maintain the status quo no matter what.

    I offer the Charlotte Tyler case of the MPD in the early 70’s. I also offer the Elton Hayes case in the early 70’s. I go further to offer the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Kennedy’s assassination, COINTELPRO, Sandanista arms deals, Watergate investigations, and many other situations where information was sought but not released or in limited amounts.
    Take the story Marcus Perrusquia did on Earnest Withers, there was so much redacting and black marker run through it I only gathered the following: Withers knew what the letters FBI stood for
    Take the full details of the Shannon Street incident or Lester street… Do we really know what happened? Or Area 51? Who actually was involved or knew more in the killing of the lady behind Eudora Church in the 60’s?

    You can pass all the open records laws in the world, but you will never get to the truth completely. Unless, the entity you are making inquiry of feels compelled to release it.

    Mr. DeBerry may be successful in getting a law passed but watch…it will be limited to the date the law is signed into existence forward, not backward. It will also empower the agency to heavily redact information it wants to, or “it” reasonably believes would cause more harm than good to itself..

    (A side bar to the prosecutor who was injured…..I personally believe she may have been practicing back flips and handstands for an audition for America’s Got Talent, and had a misstep. Anyone else know for sure this wasn’t the truth?)

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