https://www.theepochtimes.com/benson-does-about-face-on-release-of-driving-records-of-victims-of-police-violence_4411323.html

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson last week created a short-lived exception to her department’s practice of releasing people’s driving records to the media.

Under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, the secretary of state’s office routinely makes any person’s driving record available to third parties very quickly upon formal request.

The first-term Democrat, who is seeking reelection in November, said in an April 15 statement:

“The Michigan Department of State condemns the killing of Patrick Lyoya. Moreover, the department will no longer provide the driving record and personal information of Mr. Lyoya to the media, nor will it provide to media such records and information of other victims of violence.”

According to Benson, the move was prompted by the death of Lyoya, a black motorist killed by police in Grand Rapids, whose driving records were requested from the secretary of state, released, and then published by the press.

Benson’s announcement of the exception met with immediate objections by media outlets around the state.

In her statement, Benson offered this explanation for the new policy, “The department provided Mr. Lyoya’s record to three media outlets before recognizing that it was being included as an irrelevant detail that wrongly suggests he is culpable for being shot in the back of the head by a Grand Rapids police officer.”

Cyrus Mehri (L), Jocelyn Benson (C), and Willie Lanier at the SiriusXM Business Radio Broadcasts “Beyond The Game: Tackling Race” from Wharton San Francisco, Calif, on Feb. 5, 2016. (Kimberly White/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

Patrick Lyoya, 26, of Grand Rapids, was fatally shot after struggling with a white officer during a traffic stop on April 4.

On April 13 the Grand Rapids Police Department released several videos of the shooting, which provoked community outrage and sparked five days of small, peaceful demonstrations against what some believe was the use of unnecessary deadly force by the officer.

A few hours after her initial statement and the outcry from members of the press corps, Benson issued the following retraction, which says in part:

“Earlier today the Michigan Department of State issued a statement regarding the release of driver records and other personal information to the media that suggested a change in policy. There is no change of policy at this time.

“The department is currently reviewing the manner in which it provides the driver records of any Michigan resident to third parties to ensure we balance the critical importance of government transparency and access to information with the need to protect the privacy of Michiganders.

“While we conduct this review there will be no changes to our current policy, nor will there be any changes to media or public access to such data.”

Conservative activist, Eric Ventimiglia, of the group Michigan Rising Action, said in a statement, “Jocelyn Benson’s attempt to use her office to withhold public information was a clear attempt to drive a specific narrative that suits her political ambitions.”

Ventimiglia said Benson, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and Attorney General Dana Nessel, all Democrats, “are comfortable working around the law to advance their liberal agenda.”

Rev. Al Sharpton speaks to the media during a rally against police brutality on Staten Island, Aug. 23, 2014. (Petr Svab/Epoch Times)
Rev. Al Sharpton speaks to the media during a rally against police brutality on Staten Island, N.Y. on Aug. 23, 2014. (Petr Svab/The Epoch Times)

The shooting is being investigated by the Michigan State Police.

The Lyoya family is represented by a team of civil rights lawyers headed by nationally known attorney Ben Crump.

Crump said the family has requested an independent autopsy.

Police Chief Eric Winstrom said at an April 13 press conference that Lyoya’s toxicology report is expected in 60 days.

Lyoya’s funeral service is scheduled for April 22 with the Reverend Al Sharpton of New York delivering the eulogy.

Steven Kovac

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Steven Kovac is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Michigan. He is a former small businessman, local elected official, and conservative political activist. He is an ordained minister of the Gospel. Steven and his wife of 32 years have two grown daughters. He can be reached at steven.kovac@epochtimes.us

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