Gov. Cooper vetoes controversial bill that would keep death investigations in police custody confidential

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Tuesday, July 7, 2020
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Gov. Cooper vetoes controversial bill that would keep death investigations in police custody confidential

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a controversial bill that would have made investigations of deaths in prisons or police custody confidential.

Demonstrators gathered for days outside the Executive Mansion in Raleigh, calling for Cooper to veto Senate bill 168, which had been on his desk since June 26. Dozens were arrested for blocking traffic, among other charges.

The bill, while it mostly contained language about health regulations and psychiatric care, contained two sentences that caught the eyes of demonstrators, who felt the bill, if passed into law, would allow further obfuscation of investigations into deaths in police custody or prisons.

Currently, if a person dies in police custody, the investigation is considered confidential until it is handed from the police to the office of the medical examiner's office. State officials said they wanted to streamline the system, keeping those reports confidential until the medical examiner was finished with their investigation, at which point they could decide whether to make that information public.

"So whatever happens to people once they're detained by police or once they're in jail, then these records are no longer public," protester Taari Coleman said during one of the first protests. "Then it makes it very difficult to fight for justice in the confines of those areas."

In a statement Monday evening, Cooper said while he didn't believe that the drafters of the legislation had ill intent, he recognized the potential harm the bill could cause if signed into law.

"Senate Bill 168 includes a provision to change the handling of public records by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner which could have the unintended consequence of limiting transparency in death investigations," Cooper wrote. "While I believe neither the Department of Health and Human Services which proposed it, nor the General Assembly which unanimously passed it had any ill intent, the concerns that have since been raised make it clear this provision should not become law."