It's the law. Follow it.
The shooting at Sparks Middle School was a tragedy. Sparks Middle School math teacher Michael Landsberry is a true hero. In his last moments, Jose Reyes was a murderer. Now he’s a memory, not a minor, not legally a person.
Unfortunately, this incident will fade from our memories far too quickly. Members of this newspaper staff are already ready to move on. In fact, it’s that consideration that made us run it on the cover now instead of next week when it just would have reinvigorated a discussion that had already begun to move away from this emotional trauma in our community.
One of the lasting effects of this tragedy, though, will be the debate that took place as to whether Reyes’ name should have been released. It took the place of discussions about gun violence, mental illness and school safety that we should have been having.
Even people we typically agree with, like Cory Farley, weighed in, asking the questions: “Do you want to know the name of the 12-year-old who shot Sparks teacher Mike Landsberry last week? Why? What purpose would it serve?”
He then goes on to say, “Two arguments I’ve seen are that knowing the name is important to understanding the ’circumstances’ of the case, and that it will help the community heal.”
These are strawman arguments that have nothing to do with why that information should have been released immediately.
The reason that name should have been released is because the law says it should be released. It’s none of Sparks Police Department’s business why residents or journalists wanted it released. It’s the law. It’s never a public agency’s business when a citizen or a journalist goes in and asks for public information. It’s ours, we own it.
And when law enforcement agencies start breaking the law and then have their attorney transparently lying about it by saying “[the department] has not generated any document that would be considered a ’record’ subject to dissemination under the provisions of (Nevada Revised Statutes) Chapter 239,” we as a community have got a problem. What Chapter 239 says is that all public records are open unless there is an exception in the law—and neither the Sparks police nor their attorney cited such an exception.
It’s becoming an embarrassingly common practice of local government to hide public documents behind stone walls, mushmouth platitudes and attorney’s privilege. Those agencies drag their feet or simply say, “We’re not giving it up, so sue us,” knowing full well that few media outlets, and even fewer private citizens, have the money to sue a government agency to get public information. Our taxes pay their lawyers to hide our information from us.
We don’t care what laudatory reasons the Sparks Police Department claimed when it decided to break the law and withhold public information. We may even respect the sentiment behind those reasons, although we expect there will be more to this story of special treatment. Sparks Police Department is a law enforcement agency, and it’s Sparks Police Department’s job to enforce the law. “The law” includes public records laws.
Our community should have been talking about school violence, not about whether police should be above the law.