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Nashville Journalist Faces Jail Time Over Trans School Shooter Manifesto Leak

A public records case over a leaked manifesto belonging to Audrey Hale, a transgender individual who shot up the Covenant School in a Nashville suburb – killing three 9-year-old children and three adults, has spiraled into a contentious legal battle which could see a journalist tossed in jail if he doesn’t reveal his source.

On Monday, Chancellor I’Ashea Myles of Davidson County ordered Michael Patrick Leahy, editor and owner of the conservative news website The Tennessee Star, to appear in court.

Leahy is to participate in a “show cause hearing” on June 17 to address why he should not be held in contempt over his publication’s use of the leaked documents.

Leahy has filed an emergency motion to stay her order…

…except the court of appeals is too busy handling slip-and-fall cases to care that a journalist is about to be jailed.

The documents, which appeared on The Tennessee Star, may have come from former lieutenant Garet Davidson, a figure already embroiled in his controversies with the Nashville Police Department following a significant complaint filed after his departure.

On Friday, meanwhile, a Nashville police lieutenant delivered a court declaration suggesting Davidson as the source of the leaks, intensifying the scrutiny in the case. Davidson’s actions, as alleged, raise profound questions about the motivations behind and the repercussions of leaking sensitive information from an active police investigation.

The situation has stirred a significant debate about the limits of press freedom, especially when it clashes with the law’s demand for confidentiality and respect for court processes. Legal experts argue that while the public’s right to know is paramount, the integrity of judicial proceedings must also be safeguarded to ensure fair and impartial justice.

For those who want to dig deeper, a well-assembled timeline from Deborah Fisher of TCOG can be seen below:

Feb. 13, 2024 – Myles issues an order that says “any supplemental filings, declarations, and/or affidavits filed by the Parties and/or Amici or sought to be filed by the Parties and/or Amici containing any direct information, no matter how obtained, which is the subject matter of this case SHALL NOT be filed with the Court but SHALL BE submitted for in camera review following the procedures delineated in this case. … Any efforts to usurp the Orders of the Court by any Party, Counsel and/or Amici regarding the matters currently under in camera review shall be sanctioned to the fullest extent of the law, including contempt of court.”

Feb. 25, 2024 – Myles issues a followup order, explaining more about her Feb. 13 order. She said that some police documents had been “illegally leaked to the media from a source with direct contact with the files at the scene of the incident.” [Note: This followed conservative media commentator Stephen Crowder’s publication of pictures of the shooter’s writings found by police in her car.]

“The Court is concerned that the filing of such leaked documents into the record of the Court will violate the due process of this Court proceeding and the parties involved. Further, the Court is concerned that the filing of such leaked information in the record of the Court may encourage the additional illegal leakage of documents by anyone who may have access to those documents and would wish to influence the outcome of these proceedings, usurp the rule of law and/or circumvent the legal process.”

She mentioned documents that were “illegally leaked” and filed by one of the petitioners, Clata Renee Brewer, and have been placed for in camera review. Not only may no copies of leaked documents be filed with the court, “(n)o party shall directly quote or reproduce the contents of any such document in its briefing or argument.”

(Note: It is not clear to this writer how someone “leaking” these documents was “illegal,” a word Myles uses. The district attorney has not sought to prosecute anyone, as far as I know, and police don’t appear to have pressed any charges either. I know of no statute that makes releasing this type of record illegal, although certainly theft of police records could be illegal. But what about taking pictures of police records, would that be theft? Also, I am uncertain that Chancellor Myles has the authority to issue an order to prevent the police department from releasing its own documents, and I don’t recall an order to this effect anyway. It would seem like a bad idea allowing a judge to prevent another branch of government from releasing its own records that it wants to release. A simple exemption to the public records law doesn’t make releasing records illegal. However, we might found out soon how far this freshman judge believes her authority extends. She does seem concerned with the due process rights of the Covenant parents, school and church, who she allowed to intervene in the case. They want to prevent release of most, if not all, of the police records into the investigation, especially the writings of the shooter.

June 4, 2024 – The Tennessee Star begins publishing stories using information from an interview with the former police lieutenant Davidson, unnamed sources and the shooter’s writings found in her car.

Some revelations from the more than 30 stories: The FBI suggested that Metro Police could destroy the shooter’s writings to prevent the public from ever seeing them; a psychologist who treated shooter Audrey Hale tried to get her involuntarily committed at the Vanderbilt psychiatric hospital after Hale expressed violent fantasies; Hale had been planning the attack for a very long time and thought she could have been discovered; and Hale had been treated over the course of 22 years by Vanderbilt Psychiatric. (Hale was 28 years old when she attacked the school and was killed by responding police.)

Monday, June 10, 2024 – Chancellor Myles receives a media call requesting comment or a statement regarding The Tennessee Star’s stories. The call was from WSMV reporter Stacey Cameron, according to the news station’s own reporting.

Monday, June 10, 2024 – Chancellor Myles orders Leahy to appear “in his individual capacity” on Monday, June 17, in her court. The hearing is “to determine why the alleged publication of certain purported documents by Petitioners Star Digital Media and Michael Leahy, as the Editor-in-Chief, does not violate the Orders of this Court subjecting them to contempt proceedings and sanctions.”

Wednesday, June 12, 2024 – Daniel A. Horwitz, a First Amendment lawyer in Nashville hired by Leahy, files an emergency motion for Myles to set aside the June 10 order for the show cause hearing.

“With due respect to the Court, this Court’s show cause order: (1) violates Tenn. Code Ann. § 24-1-208(a), Tennessee’s shield law; (2) contravenes Tennessee’s contempt law; (3) deprives Mr. Leahy of minimum due process guarantees; and (4) suffers from other serious constitutional infirmities.”

Horwitz said it was not clear what order or provisions of the judge’s orders Leahy violated because the judge wasn’t specific in setting the show cause hearing. The orders appear to be about supplemental filings and declarations in court. How could Leahy defend himself if he didn’t know what the court thought he did wrong?

Horwitz also outlined for the judge the protections in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that provide for press freedom and prohibit prior restraint by government, including courts, on publishing material. If the judge thought her order prohibited Leahy from publishing, that would be prior restraint and unconstitutional, he argued. Horwitz said he would file an emergency appeal to the Court of Appeals if she did not vacate the show cause hearing order by noon Thursday.

Thursday, June 13 – Horwitz files an emergency application with the Court of Appeals to stay Chancellor’s Myles order.

Thursday, June 13 – Sometime after Horwitz files his appeal, or maybe near the same time, Chancellor Myles issues a new order, refusing to rescind her order for the show cause hearing and adding new information about what she wants at the hearing on Monday. She extends the order to require that a representative with Nashville government to appear. And she says that Horwitz’s claim of a First Amendment problem was premature because the Monday hearing is not a contempt proceeding.

Myles also announces in her order that if she determines a “leak did in fact occur by any party to this case and that such action was in violation of the Orders of this Court, or that there has been any abuse of, or unlawful interference with, the process or proceedings of the Court, or any violation as set forth in Tennessee Code Annotated §29-9-102, this Court may then enter an order and notice appointing an attorney as amicus curiae to the court for investigative purposes, and to initiate and prosecute a contempt citation.”

(Note: I did not know the court could appoint an “amicus curiae” to investigate and prosecute contempt citation, but as the judge notes in her order, the authority of a trial court like hers “is quite broad.”)

Thursday night, June 13 – Sometime after 8 p.m., another order is entered by the court announcing there will be no live testimony at the Monday hearing.

Friday morning, June 14 – Metro Nashville submits a declaration from Lt. Alfredo Arevolo that suggests former Lt. Garet Davidson is the leaker — or at least points out he had access to the entire file. Davidson was interviewed by Leahy on the record about the Covenant case. Leahy has not revealed the source of the photos of the writings found in the car. Davidson left the police department in December 2023 or January 2024 (it’s been reported two ways). He had worked in the Office of Professional Accountability and had access to the entire criminal investigative file during an investigation into an earlier leak of documents, Arevolo said

Davidson, by the way, filed a 61-page complaint against the Nashville Police after he left, which was widely reported on in the news media.

CURRENT STATUS: At this point, the original show cause order remains in effect, requiring Leahy to appear at the Monday hearing and presumably – perhaps now through attorneys and not live testimony – show why his publication of information from leaked documents does not subject him to contempt proceedings and sanctions. It also seems clear that the judge is on the hunt for the leaker and wants to do something. What that something is, we’ll just have to wait. The Court of Appeals had not responded as of 11 a.m. to Leahy’s motion.

For now, Nashville awaits further developments as Chancellor Myles prepares to take the next steps in a case that has evolved far beyond its origins, challenging the community’s perceptions of justice, transparency, and the role of the press in public discourse.

As author and researcher John Lott Jr. noted last week regarding the leaked manifesto;

The fight over obtaining the murderer’s diary also received news attention. But when “nearly four dozen pages” of the murderer’s diary were finally released last week, the mainstream media completely ignored it. It turns out that behind the scenes, the FBI had fought hard against the diary’s release. Some Covenant School parents also opposed releasing the diary because it would force families to re-live the nightmare. The Tennessee Star’s parent company, Star News Digital Media, successfully filed two lawsuits to obtain the diary.

Five days after the release of the diary, with the exception of the New York Post, which is a national news outlet, the news coverage was limited to seven other conservative outlets such as The Daily Wire and Newsbusters.

The school murderer was transgender, and her diary reveals a suicidal left-winger who hated whites. The FBI expressed concern that the release of the diary from a transgender person could lead the public “to dismiss the attacker as mentally ill,” which would “further permeate the false narrative that the majority of attackers are mentally ill.” It worried that the diary could “potentially inflam[e] the public.”

The FBI worried that releasing the diary could have “unintended consequences for the segment of the population more vulnerable or open to conspiracy theories, which will undoubtedly abound.” Self-professed “experts,” the FBI fears, will “proffer their perspectives” in the press.

But there is a lot of important information in the diary. As is very typical of mass public shooters, the murderer was suicidal: “A terrible feeling to know I am nothing of the gender I was born of. I am the most unhappy boy alive. I wish to be dead.” She was also on the anti-anxiety drug Buspirone, whose potential side effects include “abnormal dreams, outbursts of anger, tremors, and physical weakness.”

The FBI worries that the diary will help create a link in people’s minds between mass murderers and mental illness, but suicidal people presumably have some mental health problems. Nor should the link be particularly surprising given that the Crime Prevention Research Center shows that 51% of mass public shooters in the last 25 years were actually seeing mental health care professionals before their attacks. That is 2.5 times the rate in the general public.

  • Wyatt Earp says:

    There no such thing as a TRANS! Nothing IN Bible say anything about them! Except they WERE CREATED BY SICK PEOPLE! Why should someone be held for telling the TRUTH? I thought 1st amendment give reporters FREE PRESS!

  • Scott says:

    If this had been someone from the “Jan 6” gang this would not been any issue. Leak away.

  • One says:

    The court is only worried about the TRUTH coming out, which will tell the story of a VERY mentally deranged young person who couldn’t handle her own personal struggles, refused any/all mental health help, and instead, blamed (and punished). others for her own miscalculations of life. There is NO ONE here to blame but the shooter – NO ONE. Research shows because of the degree of mental instability of the majority, some of the most dangerous people walking are transgenders. However, you’ll NEVER find this documented anywhere for the public.



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