St. Louis police refuse to release CVPA surveillance as Nashville police release footage hours after school shooting

Published: Mar. 28, 2023 at 5:39 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) – The Nashville Police Department has been transparent regarding its investigation into the Covenant School shooting, which is a stark contrast to what happened when a teacher and student were killed at the Central Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) High School in south St. Louis.

Videos and information in cases like these can show what happened and if there are lessons left to learn. With the Uvalde school shooting, the video showed how long it took the police to respond.

Within 24 hours, Nashville police shared surveillance and body camera video, released a picture of the shooter and provided information about where they bought their gun.

On October 24, 2022, a former student shot his way into CVPA, injuring four people and killing Jean Kuczka and Alexzandria Bell. Most of what happened that day is still a mystery. It’s been five months and police still haven’t released any video. The only video is what cameras captured outside of the school. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department claims it’s an “open investigation,” which, under state law, makes the records closed to the public.

News 4 spoke with attorney Dave Roland. He is an expert on Missouri’s open records law and works as the director of litigation for the Freedom Center of Missouri.

“I think that we really ought to be providing as much information as possible to the public so long as there is not an actual concrete reason to believe that providing the information is going to jeopardize the public health or safety,” he said.

For months News 4 Investigates has been trying to get answers, but the police won’t budge.

On the day of the shooting, News 4 Investigates sent an email asking the St. Louis Public School District for the surveillance video. A couple of days later, a spokesman responded, stating, “entire surveillance systems were taken by the FBI. If and when the systems are returned to the District, we will defer to law enforcement on any disclosure.”

Roland told News 4 Investigates he doesn’t buy that explanation.

“We’re in the digital age, at most they handed over a digital copy of something they still retained themselves, it does not belong to the FBI as long as it is still retained by a local government agency that is subject to the sunshine law,” he said.

News 4 Investigates also asked the FBI for videos and records from the shooting. They mailed a letter explaining all the records are part of an open investigation. When asked for clarification, an FBI spokeswoman said the bureau provides initial assistance on all school shootings but if there isn’t a federal threat the investigation stays with the local police department.

As for the records, the spokeswoman said they can’t be released by the FBI because they were only providing assistance. So, it is up to the lead agency, which in this case is the St. Louis Police Department.

“The only way the citizens can play their proper roles in our society is if they are informed, that’s the reason we have government transparency laws,” said Roland.

Tuesday, News 4 Investigates returned to St. Louis police to ask about getting the video. They said they were still investigating and can’t say when they’ll be done. They also claimed a public school is not necessarily a public place and the video may never be released.

After this story aired, George Sells, director of communications and marketing for the St. Louis Public School District, told News 4, “My chief of security tells me investigators immediately came in and confiscated the DVR’s attached to our security cameras at CVPA/CSMB. Those DVR’s contained the only copies of the video in existence when they were taken.”