NewsChannel 5 Investigation Prompts Public Records Debate - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NewsChannel 5 Investigation Prompts Public Records Debate

(Story created: 11/15/06)

The debate over public records surfaced in a NewsChannel 5 investigation.

Fermin Estrada was shot and killed by police in his Shelbyville backyard in March.

The TBI is investigated the shooting, but the report still remains a mystery due to a little loophole in the law.

William Estrada just wants answers. And, he doesn't feel he should have to hire a lawyer just to find out.

"Unless we sue they will never find out what happened and why," the Estradas' lawyer Clarles Blatteis said.

But by state law, the TBI does not have to hand over the report, unless they're subpoenaed. 

"It doesn't make sense for an agency to have an exemption in the public records law as broad as this one," said Frank Gibson with the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.

The TBI report is the only official record of what happened, complete with witness statements, ballistics tests and forensic evidence.

"That report contains key information about forensic information, and we simply do not have that information, and as we understand it there are no plans to provide the family with that information," Blatteis said.

After the NewsChannel 5 investigation brought this story to light, the DA who's seen the report and said the shooting was justified sent NewsChannel 5 a summary. 

The summary says bullet path reconstruction shows Estrada "fired at least one round in the direction of the officers." He again states there is "no evidence of wrongdoing" by the officers involved.

But it's not the actual report, and the evidence still is missing.

"I don't know whether a law enforcement agency doing an investigation would accept something like this from a suspect," Gibson said.

Gibson said of course there can be good reason a case file can remain secret, but in the Estrada case there's never been any reason, just a simple refusal. 

"The public should always have a right to look over the shoulders of any government agency," Gibson said.

The only choice left for the family is the $50 million lawsuit.  

No court date has been set yet.
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