Connecticut panel: Release 911 calls in Newtown massacre

Posted at 5:54 PM, Sep 25, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-25 18:03:06-04

(CNN) — The Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission voted unanimously to recommend that 911 calls and other evidence related to the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown be released to the public.

Twenty-six people, including 20 first-graders, were killed by gunman Adam Lanza at the school on December 14.

The decision was seen as the first challenge to a new Connecticut law that blocks public disclosure of some evidence, including photos of those who died in the shooting, on the grounds that their release would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of the victim or the victim’s surviving family members.”

But that legislation also says that all 911 recordings, as well as audio recordings of first responders, firefighters and police, should be made available.

The Associated Press has challenged the authorities’ refusal to release the 911 tapes, as well as police records related to the Lanza family.

In a report issued in August, an attorney for the commission criticized Newtown police for ceding to the State Attorney’s demand that the 911 calls and other records be withheld from the Associated Press and called for their release.

“While the new law exempts from disclosure certain audio recordings of conversations, presumably between first responders, in which the conditions of victims are described in such recordings, it specifically does not shield from disclosure recordings of 911 calls from members of the public to law enforcement agencies,” the report said.

It also found that although the AP made its initial request in December, police did not even search for the recordings until May 31.

In a brief responding to AP’s complaint, Stephen Sedensky III, state’s attorney for Danbury, said “disclosure of the 911 calls would reveal the identity of witnesses not otherwise known and subject them to threat or intimidation if their identities were made known.”

Sedensky also argued that release of the tapes would jeopardize his investigation and that it would harm the survivors, whom he considers victims of an act of child abuse.

A spokesman for Sedensky said he expects to issue a report on his investigation sometime this fall.

The nine-member commission decided that the tapes were public record and were not exempted from the state’s Freedom of Information Act, so police should no longer withhold them.

Any release is not likely to happen immediately. The commission will mail out its report to Newtown officials, who then have 45 days to appeal.