AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Sunshine Week: A cop killer and a state secret

It’s Sunshine Week, a yearly celebration of open and transparent government. So let’s talk about government secrets. Here’s one about a cop killer and Georgia’s state prison system.

You may recall the fatal shooting of two New York City police officers in December.  Their killer was Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, an on-again, off-again Georgia resident with a criminal past. I helped dig up details about his life here in metro Atlanta, which included 19 arrests and a stay in a state Department of Corrections boot camp.

Thanks to public records, we have a broad outline of  Brinsley’s path from petty criminal to cop killer. Each arrest generates a police report and court records.

But records of Brinsley’s stay at boot camp is secret thanks to Georgia law, which states the following:

“All institutional inmate files and central office inmate files of the department shall be classified as confidential state secrets and privileged under law, unless declassified in writing by the commissioner.”

Brinsley’s stay at boot camp was of particular interest to me. As a member of the AJC’s investigative team, one of my most important duties is to hold government accountable. In Brinsley’s case, this required reviewing his interactions with the criminal justice system and assessing whether it did its job.

Georgia’s prison system had an opportunity to change the course of Brinsley’s through boot camp, which is supposed to help low-level offenders get back on track. It obviously didn’t work. Should the boot camp have done things differently? Under current state law, I’ll never have a chance to find out.

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