Nevada’s public records law requires the release of information for very good reason: If government employees are given the slightest bit of discretion in determining what taxpayers are allowed to see, they’ll be too happy to deny access to that information.
The outpouring of raw emotion following Monday’s shooting outside Sparks Middle School, in which a 12-year-old boy used a handgun to wound two students, kill a teacher and kill himself, led the Sparks Police Department to make an emotional decision about obviously public information. On Tuesday, Deputy Police Chief Tom Miller announced the department would “never” release the name of the shooter out of sympathy for the boy’s parents.
There is no exemption in public records law for sympathy. If there were, no one would ever receive official confirmation of anyone’s death. This boy’s identity is of unusual importance to the public. He wasn’t merely a juvenile suicide victim — a tragedy deserving of examination by itself — he also was a killer. So Sparks is left to learn of whatever traumatized this child through the whispers of classmates and through social media. And the Sparks Police Department, charged with upholding the law, is breaking the law by keeping a murderer’s identity secret.
All to protect parents who themselves are being investigated in connection with the shooting — police believe the boy got the gun from home. If the boy had easy access to a loaded handgun and his parents are charged with a crime, will Sparks police try keep their identities secret, too? And what other criminals might have their identities protected by police?
The Sparks Police Department has put itself on a slippery slope. If its decision to withhold public information goes unchallenged, expect other law enforcement agencies to one day follow suit. The sooner the name of the shooter is released, the sooner Nevada will understand why another senseless school shooting happened — and what might prevent the next one. If police won’t make this public information public, the Washoe County coroner should.