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Judge Orders Release of 911 Tapes

by Hugh McQuaid | Nov 26, 2013 5:04pm
(3) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Courts, Law Enforcement, Media Matters, Newtown

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Recordings of the 911 calls made during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting will be released by Dec. 4 under a Tuesday decision by a Superior Court judge in New Britain.

Judge Eliot Prescott issued the decision Tuesday, denying a request by State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky to prevent their release. Sedensky had asked the court to issue a stay while he appealed a decision by the Freedom of Information Commission, which had ruled in favor of the Associated Press, which had asked Newtown police to provide copies of the recordings.

The judge gave Sedensky until Dec. 4 to appeal the ruling. Sedensky is reviewing the decision and will determine his next course of action by that date, according to a statement from the state Division of Criminal Justice.

Earlier this month, Prescott concluded he could not rule on the case until he had listened to the recordings. The tapes were made available to the court on Monday as sealed evidence.

After reviewing the recordings, Prescott said they did not meet the requirements for exemptions that would prevent their disclosure under the state Freedom of Information Act.

Sedensky had argued that in this case, the tapes should not be released because they represented records of child abuse. He also suggested that making them public may discourage residents from using the 911 system in the future. The judge dismissed those arguments.

“There is no factual or legal support for this claim,” Prescott said of the potential that the release could “chill” 911 use.

Prescott said issuing a stay could leave the AP “hamstrung” in its attempts to report on a tragic but significant moment in Connecticut history. It could take years for Sedensky’s appeal make its way through the court system.

“Given the weakness of the plaintiff’s claims on the merits, such a result is difficult to justify,” Prescott wrote.

The judge said he recognized that the release of the tapes may be a “searing reminder of the horror and pain” of Dec. 14 for those close to the incident. However, he said that fact must be tempered by the knowledge that the tapes likely will be released at some point.

When they are released, Prescott said they will help the public gauge the law enforcement response to the incident. He said they may “vindicate and support” the efforts of first responders who have been in pain and emotional turmoil from what they witnessed at the school.

“The public has weighty interest in addressing these questions now, not possibly two or three years from now when this case may have finally concluded. Delaying the release of the audio recordings, particularly where the legal justification to keep them confidential is lacking, only serves to fuel speculation about and undermine confidence in our law enforcement officials,” the judge wrote.

Prescott heard arguments in the case earlier this month.

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(3) Comments

posted by: Noteworthy | November 26, 2013  5:21pm

“There is no factual or legal support” for Sedensky’s claims. The real question is why he made them in the first place. It certainly calls into question his judgement and what rationale he used to withhold public documents for so long. Connecticut needs to hold these state and local employees accountable for FOIA violations. The law needs to change - not in favor of suppression, in favor of $1,000 fine for each violation. If Sedensky had to write the check once, he’d probably be a lot more careful about wasting the court’s time and our tax money with specious arguments.

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | November 26, 2013  8:01pm

Sedensky has done his job - well done.  He delayed for the families long enough that there is no story.  He will release them, no appeal.

HST

posted by: mmal231294 | December 2, 2013  11:14am

He knowingly made claims that were not supported by law. I don’t give a flying fig newton if he believed he was helping the families. If he would do so once he will do so again. Do we want Prosecutors that attempt to manipulate the system for what they perceive to be a good reason? So if he believes someone to be getting away with something he can/should manipulate the system to keep them in jail as long as he can? What if he is wrong?