What started as a snarky message left on a state senator's Facebook page is about to become a bill that could block release of a dash-cam video depicting a police officer's death.
The message was sent by Tim Sayre, an aspiring police officer and Ellet resident. It came in the aftermath of Senate Bill 5 and was sent to State Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Akron.
"Instead of trying to rip apart Law Enforcement Departments [sic] across Ohio with SB 5, how about you guys do something constructive to help the Officers," Sayre wrote on LaRose's Facebook page in March.
" . . . like pass a bill that would make it illegal to release dash cam video of an officer that was killed in the line of duty so that the news stations and newspapers don't threaten legal action on a department if they don't release the dash cam video to the media because it is 'public record.' "
LaRose responded that same day, saying, "I couldn't agree more."
But not everyone favors the proposed change.
David Marburger, a Cleveland attorney who has represented area media in public records cases, called the dash-cam proposal "inane" and "idiotic."
He said fears that such videos would be broadcast on TV or shown on the Internet are unrealistic. He also said such a law would cast a shadow of secrecy on police work and carve out another unnecessary exception for safety forces.
It is vital, he said, that the public be able to see the truth.
"The value of the video corroborates the story," he said.
Sayre's message came on the heels of LaRose's affirmative vote on SB 5 and the shooting death of Sandusky police officer Andrew Dunn.
The officer's death was captured on his cruiser's dash-mounted camera. Local media sought, but have yet to obtain, the film under Ohio's public-record laws.
Sayre, whose father is a public worker, said he was disappointed in LaRose's vote on SB 5 and was simply blowing off steam when he posted the message. He didn't expect his suggestion to make it to the state Senate.
"I thought it would just be swept under the rug," he said Monday. "But it's long overdue."
LaRose said Monday that he intends to submit legislation that would limit the release of a dash-cam video if it depicts an officer being killed.
Before introducing the bill, LaRose said he plans to meet with media industry groups to address the public's First Amendment rights while still protecting the families of fallen safety workers.
"I don't want to degrade Ohio's open-records law as it relates to legitimate us by our media," he said. "But I also recognize a little common sense is needed when it comes to protecting families when a father or spouse is shot on duty."
As part of reaching a balance, LaRose said he is considering language that would allow police to redact portions of the video that might show, for example, the moment an officer is shot.
Jay McDonald, president of the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, said they would support LaRose's bill. He said the bill would shield the families of fallen officers.
"We believe that the nature of being killed doesn't have to be a public record for families to view on YouTube from now until the end of time," he said.
LaRose said the bill does not target mainstream media outlets, which he said have shown some discretion over airing offensive materials.
He said he is concerned that nontraditional sources would put the video on the Internet.
"I think we can definitely find a compromise," he said. "I think the end result is what matters to me and that we protect the families of our first responders."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service