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Ashley judd calls for legal change after being treated like a suspect in mothers suicide


Ashley Judd has called for greater privacy protections for bereaved families after she says she was left feeling like “a possible suspect” during police interviews after her mother’s suicide.

The Heat actor, 54, spoke out about the unimaginable torment she went through this spring when she found her mother, Grammy-winning country star Naomi Judd, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the singer’s home in Nashville. In a powerful personal essay, published Wednesday in the New York Times, Ashley called April 30 “the most shattering day of my life.”

“The trauma of discovering and then holding her laboring body haunts my nights,” Judd wrote. Last week, a report from the Nashville medical examiner said that Naomi died from a gunshot wound to the head, and that she had lived with a “significant” history of anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. The report added that Ashley found her mother while badly wounded along with a “note with suicidal connotations” and a gun nearby, The Guardian reports.

In her essay, Judd explains how the agony of losing a loved one has been compounded by intrusive law enforcement practices and statutes.

“As my family and I continue to mourn our loss, the rampant and cruel misinformation that has spread about her death, and about our relationships with her, stalks my days,” she wrote. “The horror of it will only worsen if the details surrounding her death are disclosed by the Tennessee law that generally allows police reports, including family interviews, from closed investigations to be made public.”

Bereaved family members are “often revictimized” by laws that permit the public disclosure of police files, she said, with “utterly unguarded” comments made during law enforcement interviews and other personal information ultimately made available for anyone to see.

“I felt cornered and powerless as law enforcement officers began questioning me while the last of my mother’s life was fading,” she wrote in the essay, adding that she was compelled to answer investigative questions instead of being with her mother in her final hours. She stressed that the police she dealt with were “not bad or wrong” to follow established procedures, but that the procedures themselves needed to be addressed.

“It is now well known that law enforcement personnel should be trained in how to respond to and investigate cases involving trauma, but the men who were present left us feeling stripped of any sensitive boundary, interrogated and, in my case, as if I was a possible suspect in my mother’s suicide,” she said.

Earlier in August, Judd said she and her family had filed a court petition to prevent the publication of the investigative file in her mother’s case, explaining that the family has “secrets” and a “legal right to protect our privacy in this specific matter.”

But she also called for a change in laws and legal procedures to protect the privacy of anyone who might be affected by the publication of grisly details surrounding a death. Judd specifically said she has “deep compassion” for Vanessa Bryant, who recently won a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Los Angeles County after graphic photos leaked of the helicopter crash that killed her basketball star husband, Kobe, and their daughter, Gianna.

“I hope that leaders in Washington and in state capitals will provide some basic protections for those involved in the police response to mental health emergencies,” she added. “Those emergencies are tragedies, not grist for public spectacle.”

If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. You can also text or dial 988.

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Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.