Thanks to the Florida lawmakers' successful bid to legislate morality in the state's public records law, we may never know how 18-year-old Eric Perez died in the hands of state workers.
Perez died about a week ago at a West Palm Beach juvenile detention facility, due to either breathing problems, an enlarged heart, maybe a stroke, or after becoming "ill and psychotic" -- at least those are the different stories officials have told Perez's mother, according to the Miami Herald.
His death was recorded on video, but since HB 411 was signed into effect by the governor, the media -- and subsequently, the public -- may never get to see that video.
The rationale for the law may make sense on the surface: Most people who've seen Faces of Death -- a 1980 film that's just a roughly 100-minute compilation of real and fake footage of deaths -- would think there's no legitimate reason to watch the death of another human being.
To anyone who wants to hold people and government accountable, though, death videos have proved to be important.
Consider the story -- and video -- of Martin Lee Anderson.
He was 14 years old when he died at a juvenile boot camp in Panama City in 2006, and just about everyone had seen the video of his death -- leading to the closure of all state boot camps.
But as of July 1, any photograph, video, or audio recording that depicts "all acts or events that cause or otherwise relate to the death of any human being, including any related acts or events immediately preceding or subsequent to the acts or events that were the proximate cause of death," are considered confidential and exempt from Florida's public records law.
Now it's a third-degree felony for a records custodian to release the video if it violates the new law.
The Herald has already requested the tape, and officials say they're in the process of redacting the footage in case it is exempt from the law, although they still wouldn't be able to release it while the investigation into Perez's death is ongoing.
The only other way around the law in this case would be through Perez's mother. The death videos can be released to immediate family, and they're free to do whatever they want with it. His mother has told the Herald she'd likely give the paper the tape.
Absent that, the state hasn't even said how Perez died or what he died of.
Officials wouldn't provide Perez's name until his mother came forward to reporters, and the state wouldn't give the Herald the employees' termination letters.
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