The state cites the murder of Patrick Lyoya for a sudden change of policy
LANSING – The Michigan State Department said Friday it will no longer release driving records for victims of violence, a move that is sparking criticism from First Amendment advocates.
Driving documents and other documents relating to motor vehicles are regularly obtained from members of the media and from members of other industries, such as insurance companies. But Tracy Wimmer, a spokesperson for the department, said the state has discretion and the law says it “can release” that information, not that it should.
In a press release, the State Department, led by Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, said its sudden policy change was related to the police killing in Grand Rapids last week of Patrick Lyoya, a 26-year-old unarmed black man. , during a traffic stop. The police shooting is under investigation by the Michigan State Police.
The unsigned press release claimed that the state agency had provided Lyoya’s driving record to three unidentified media outlets “before acknowledging that it was included as an irrelevant detail that incorrectly suggests he was guilty of being shot in the back of the head by a Grand Rapids police officer. “
Department officials would not have said whether the Free Press, which obtained the information and only reported that Lyoya’s license had been revoked, was one of the media that pushed the policy change.
Moreover:Grand Rapids police release video of officer shooting Patrick Lyoya to death
Moreover:Patrick Lyoya escaped violence and persecution in Congo only to die in Michigan
The department “condemns the killing of Patrick Lyoya” and “will no longer provide the media with Mr. Lyoya’s driving records and personal information, nor will it provide the media with such recordings and information of other victims of violence,” the statement said. .
Detroit Free Press editor Peter Bhatia said obtaining driving records is “a standard journalistic practice and a long-standing service provided by the Secretary of State’s Office to the Media.” Bhatia said he understood that the Free Press reports were partly to blame for the press release.
“While we recognize that some may find the publication of such information inflammatory and cite press reports following the killing of other black men by police officers, we saw the license revocation as an important context given the sequence of events. in Grand Rapids and that the meeting between Lyoya and the officer quickly deteriorated after the officer asked for Lyoya’s license. Our intention was purely journalistic, “Bhatia said.
“In situations like this we are extremely careful to provide information on everyone involved in the context and at the appropriate time in the evolution of a case. We do not rush to publish because we may have some details first.”
Lisa McGraw, head of public affairs for the Michigan Press Association, said she has “grave concerns” about any state agency that holds or releases information based on how that agency believes the information will be used.
“This goes against the intent of the law,” he said. “At what point does this allow officials to protect themselves?”
In the specific case of Lyoya’s deadly shooting, “it is in the public interest to have as much transparency as possible,” McGraw said.
Free Press legal counsel Herschel Fink said the new policy sets a dangerous precedent.
“This is pure and simple censorship. It is not for a secretary of state to impose their political judgment on what information the public is entitled to have regarding investigations into possible crimes. It is the function of law enforcement and prosecutors and, where necessary, the courts interpreting the laws on open records. “
The State Department called on state lawmakers to “strengthen the law to show they value the privacy of Michigan citizens.” In the meantime, he said he will continue to review and revise policies under which he discloses “the personal information of any Michigan resident to third parties.”
Wimmer said that because the department has discretion over what information it releases and under what circumstances, there will likely be longer conversations to evaluate the purpose of the requests before the information is released.
Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ paulegan4. Read more about Michigan politics and sign up for our election newsletter.
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