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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A media organization is due to appear in court on Monday after publishing details from leaked documents about the gunman six people killed at an elementary school in Nashville in March 2023, while the point of sale sues that these and other documents be made public.

The hearing, ordered by Nashville Chancellor I’Ashea Myles, has drawn outrage not only from Star News Digital Media and editor-in-chief Michael Leahy, but also from outspoken government advocates and Tennessee lawmakers.

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

Initially, the judge ordered Leahy and lawyers to explain to the court why the recent work on leaked documents did not violate judicial protections for documents, which 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 from conservative Star News and other plaintiffs remains pending in court after more than a year. A group Parents at Covenant School have joined the lawsuitarguing that none of the documents should ever be released because they could inspire copycats and retraumatize their children.

Although the investigation file remains officially closed to the public, two prominent rounds of evidence about the shooter’s writings have been leaked to the media.

The police say they cannot determine who is responsible for the first leak. While investigating the second, a lieutenant has made a connection with a former colleague without directly accusing him of the leak.

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In a court statement Friday, Nashville police Lt. Alfredo Arevalo said his office was leading an investigation into the initial leak. A former lieutenant, Garet Davidson, was given a copy of the criminal investigation file stored in a safe in his office and only Davidson had the key and safe combination, Arevalo said.

Davidson has left the force. In addition, he filed a highly publicized complaint alleging that the police had actively lobbied to undermine the city’s charter community oversight boardas well as a number of other misconduct claims.

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

Arevalo wrote that he is “shocked” by the leak and “saddened by the impact 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 least twenty diaries, a suicide note and an unpublished memoir were left behind at Covenant, a private Christian school, according to court records.

The city of Nashville has argued that it does not have to release the documents during an active police investigation. Prosecutors have countered that there has been no meaningful criminal investigation since the gunman, Audrey Hale, was killed by police.

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

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

Leahy’s attorney for Monday’s hearing, Daniel Horwitz, wrote that the Star’s stories do not violate previous court orders and that the purpose of the hearing is so vague that Leahy should not risk testifying. He said any attempt to restrict the publication of legally obtained documents, or to force the disclosure of anonymous sources, would violate legal protections of reporting.

The judge responded that she wanted to “establish the status and veracity of any alleged leak” and clarified that there would be no witness statements. If violations of court orders are found, she plans to appoint an attorney to investigate and assist in the contempt process.

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

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