The Star News Network is suing the Federal Bureau of Investigation alleging the law enforcement agency has broken a critical First Amendment guard in repeatedly denying Freedom of Information Act requests seeking the Covenant School killer’s manifesto.
Filed Wednesday, the federal lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court for Middle Tennessee to order the FBI to release Audrey Elizabeth Hale’s manifesto and related documents and to issue a declaration that the agency violated FOIA in denying the request for the information.
The Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) is representing three plaintiffs, Nashville-based Star News Digital Media, Inc., which owns and operates The Star News Network, Michael Patrick Leahy and Matt Kittle.
“WILL is proud to support the Freedom of the Press. Without it, the Biden Administration would be free to keep the public in the dark about serious matters of public safety, including the tragic March shooting in Nashville,” said WILL Deputy Legal Counsel Dan Lennington.
“The release of these records is critical to understanding the mind and actions of a mass murderer, and can help form public policy to most effectively protect American citizens,” said Leahy, Editor-in-Chief of The Star News Network and CEO of parent company Star News Digital Media, Inc., headquartered in Nashville.
“We believe the public’s right to know is so important that we are willing to challenge the most powerful law enforcement agency in America.”
It’s been a month and a half since Hale, a 28-year-old woman who reportedly identified as a transgender male, stormed into the Covenant Presbyterian School in Nashville on the morning of March 27 and shot dead three 9-year-old students and three staff members.
The Star News Network has sought the documents — including journal entries, notes, plans, and other writings — from the FBI through two Freedom of Information Act requests. Each request asked the agency to expedite the release. In both instances, the FBI quickly denied the requests, ultimately asserting that “there is a pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding relevant to” the requested records. Releasing the documents, the FBI said, “could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.”
The agency this week rejected the appeal, asserting that it is “reasonably foreseeable” that turning over the records would “harm the interests protected” by federal statute. Again, the Department of Justice laid claim to protecting some nebulous prospective law enforcement proceeding, although the agency has not explained just what that could be. Hale was fatally shot by responding police officers within minutes of her rampage at the Nashville private school. There would appear no proceeding to protect.
“Hale is dead and no threat remains to the public related to the events of March 27. There is no criminal prosecution, investigation, or anything resembling an “enforcement proceeding,’” the lawsuit states. “FBI is apparently attempting to interpret the manifesto, but at this point, interpreting or reviewing the manifesto is an academic exercise and certainly not an enforcement proceeding. In short, there is simply no reason why FBI cannot release the manifesto.”
The Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD), which is also in possession of the manifesto, at one point said it was preparing to release the records. A Nashville law enforcement official told The Tennessee Star and other news outlets, “The investigation has advanced to the point that the writings from the Covenant shooter are being reviewed for public release. That process is underway and will take a little while.”
“Covenant investigation update: 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,” Metro Nashville Police tweeted last week.
MNPD also has denied The Star News Network’s requests for the shooter’s manifesto.
The lawsuit argues the FBI has contradicted its own position in swiftly releasing similar records of other mass murderers.
In October, Orlando Harris killed two and injured seven people in St. Louis. The FBI investigated the incident with other law enforcement authorities. CNN obtained a copy of and reported on the details of his manifesto the day after the shootings.
Nearly a month later, Andre Marcus Bing killed seven people and injured four at a Walmart Supercenter in Chesapeake, VA. The FBI investigated the incident with other law enforcement authorities, and within three days, the New York Times obtained the killer’s manifesto.
The list of recent contradictions goes on.
In 1995, the FBI famously released Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto to The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Penthouse magazine.
The delay in the release of the Hale manifesto has led to speculation, including theories that President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice is playing politics with the investigation — and the records attached to it. As someone who identified as transgender, Hale doesn’t fit the left’s usual narrative of a school shooter, critics say. LGBTQ+ groups early on warned the release of manifesto could lead to serious consequences.
“It has been long enough, and the public has an urgent right to know why this tragedy happened, how future events may be prevented, and what policies should be in place to address this and other similar tragedies,” the lawsuit asserts. “FBI has no right to retain a monopoly on this information.”
Curiously, the suspected mass shooter suspected of killing at least eight people at a Texas mall over the weekend was found to have frequently posted pro-white supremacist and neo-Nazi materials on social media, according to an FBI bulletin reviewed by Rolling Stone.
The FBI’s “review and triage of the subject’s social media accounts revealed hundreds of postings and images to include writings with racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist rhetoric, including neo-Nazi materials and material espousing the supremacy of the white race,” the bulletin reads.
So, the FBI is clearly comfortable releasing records tied to a killer described as a white supremacist but apparently not for an individual who reportedly identified as a transgender male.
“The federal government does not get to pick and choose whether they release information that lawfully belongs to the public,” said WILL Deputy Counsel Lucas Vebber, “Our efforts are critical to holding our federal government accountable and promoting transparency.”
Read the complaint:
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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photo “Audrey Elizabeth Hale” by Metropolitan Nashville Police Department. Background Photo “FBI Building” by cisko66. CC BY 3.0.