Widow sues to stop release of husband's jail-death video

GREENWOOD, S.C. (AP) — A lawyer for newspapers and news media organizations across South Carolina said a judge would be rewriting the state’s open records laws if he allows the widow of a man who died in jail to block the release of the surveillance video of his final moments.

LaKrystal Coats sued to stop the release of footage of her husband’s death in March, saying the video is an invasion of privacy. The Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office has refused to release the footage, citing Coats’ lawsuit.

The Index-Journal of Greenwood requested the video under the Freedom of Information Act and was sent footage from before Demetric Cowan became sick, but no video that showed how jail workers responded when he started to crawl around and shake on the floor.

The newspaper wants the video to see how quickly jail officials reacted and whether they should have called paramedics quicker, said South Carolina Association lawyer Taylor Smith said. “That’s the story, frankly, your honor, the Index-Journal wants to shed light on,” Taylor said.

Coates’ attorney Charles Grose said Cowan’s family does not want his final moments shown all over the internet. He said the footage should be considered a medical record, which is private under South Carolina’s public records law.

Smith said the newspaper can’t say what it would do with the video because it has not seen it yet, but that Cowan shouldn’t have expected privacy in a publicly funded building such as a jail, where people are constantly monitored.

Public records laws in South Carolina also don’t include any provision to consider a family’s wishes, Smith said.

An autopsy determined Cowan died from a drug overdose. A prosecutor did not charge any jail employees after reviewing the State Law Enforcement Division’s investigation of the death.

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