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Chairman Makes Passionate Plea To Keep Crime Evidence Private

by | Sep 18, 2013 3:34pm
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Posted to: Media Matters, Newtown

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Rep. Angel Arce

A chairman of a state panel tasked with balancing victim privacy and public transparency gave emotional and personal testimony Wednesday in favor of restricting disclosure of some law enforcement records.

The testimony came from state Rep. Angel Arce, one of two chairmen on a task force to weigh the interests of crime victims and their families against the state’s Freedom of Information Act. The group was created as part of a new law restricting the release of some police records pertaining to homicide victims and victims who are children.

The bill was passed by lawmakers after families of victims of the Sandy Hook shooting appealed to the legislature to stop the release of records pertaining to the Dec. 14 incident. The law has been described as a “stopgap” measure passed while the investigation into the shooting is ongoing. The task force is meant to inform more permanent legislative action on the issue.

Arce, a Hartford Democrat, was named to the group by House Speaker Brendan Sharkey in part based on his unique personal experiences. In 2008, his father was paralyzed in a hit-and-run accident on Park Street in Hartford. He later died from his injuries. The incident was captured in video footage and made national news after the video was released.

Although the panel has met frequently for more than a month, Arce had, up until Wednesday, said little on the subject of his own experiences. However, in a presentation to the task force he opened up on the emotional impact of both the public broadcast of the video and the subsequent news coverage of his family’s story following the accident.

Arce was critical of the news media, saying some reporters are “cold-hearted people” who sometimes victimize families. He addressed the group as images of his father’s accident were displayed on a screen behind him. He did not turn to look at the images and relied on a legislative aide to click through the black-and-white pictures while he spoke.

“Yesterday, I had to see those pictures for the first time in four years and I couldn’t sleep last night. The images stood in my mind and reminded me of the day that this happened,” he said.

Later, he left the hearing room while aides played for the group the video of the accident. Arce said his family was still recovering from the consequences of the release of his father’s video. The footage was broadcast without any warning or courtesy call to the family, he said.

“Until this day four years later, my father’s video is still shown on TV. It’s not easy for me, it’s not easy for my family. We keep getting reminded, over and over again,” he said. “. . . With what my family’s been through, I do not want to see the families from Sandy Hook or anyone in the state of Connecticut go through it. We still suffer from it.”

At times in the past, Arce has been less critical of the release of the video. Since his father’s accident, he has advocated for legislation that would allow cities to install traffic enforcement cameras at major intersections. Although lawmakers have not approved the concept, Arce has said the cameras would encourage drivers to slow down, which would make city streets safer.

While advocating for the cameras at an event in February 2012, Arce said the release of his father’s video led the public to supply information that helped police identify the hit-and-run driver.

“It was because of the cameras on Park Street that we were able to apprehend the person that killed my father . . . As soon as they showed that video, people started calling. They gave us the information on who it was,” Arce said last year.

Asked Wednesday about the comments, Arce downplayed the role the video played in the apprehension of the driver.

“Honestly, the video didn’t really do anything. But I’ll tell you what it did do, it put a lot of pain in my family. It took two years to get my mother out of depression. No one notified us. It caught us by surprise,” he said

James Smith, a member of the task force and president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, said that cooperation from the news media often helps law enforcement officials identify offenders.

“The press and the police work together to help find those responsible for crimes,” Smith said. “In terms of first responders, reporters are first responders and we have ethical guidelines . . . We try to show respect, but you ask to talk to the family so that crime victims aren’t statistics. They become human beings.”

The task force is charged with making recommendations to the legislature by January. Arce said he would continue to urge the group to recommend legislation that would shield families from having records involving their loved ones released.

“This is something that I support and as long as I’m standing on two feet, I will fight to protect privacy for those families,” he said.

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(2) Archived Comments

posted by: Noteworthy | September 18, 2013  6:08pm

Why is Arce on the task force, let alone the chairman? He has a predetermined view of the outcome and clearly, a view that has changed over time that is now anti-the public’s right to know. 

While I am sympathetic to the pain of his family, that pain and the ability of the media to tell the story, help apprehend the criminals and bring greater awareness of driving problems, joint responsibility for our shared well being, trumps any concern for privacy.

Is the shame of a criminal’s family any different? The family of the Navy Yard shooter has been splashed all over the television. They didn’t ask for that. It happens. It’s part of life.

I find it reprehensible that politicians in the dark of night and behind closed doors, decide to restrict the public’s right to know, but are happy to spend our money answering the calls or in the case of Newtown, tearing down a perfectly good school and spending tens of millions of dollars on a new one. How many times did Malloy and the state police use the media to get information out, to address what’s being done, to advise the public or to ferry the governor in so he could score political points? How many times was the media used to try and shame the foundation into turning a community fund into a victims compensation fund? That I guess, is ok but the flip side is not? I don’t think so.

And for the record, Arce, reporters and editors are not cold hearted. As a former reporter who has covered similar tragedies and worse, it affects all of us. But we have a job to do and we do it the best and as kindly as we can. There can only be one rule of thumb - when public dollars are spent, or public policy is discussed, the general public has an absolute right to know the details regardless of who finds it uncomfortable.

posted by: dano860 | September 18, 2013  9:48pm

Well said, Noteworthy.
One wonders what makes a victim or member of a victims family an instant expert on the subject that they were just thrust into. Why are they given more credibility than anyone else?
Car accidents happen every day, is everyone involved a new expert? People are injured in on the job accidents every day but they aren’t OSHA investigators.
The horror that occurred in D.C. will become public and many families will live and re-live that horror time and again.
As Noteworthy said, if the publics money is invested then it should be the publics information.