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Newtown Families Push For Privacy

by | Oct 30, 2013 3:39pm
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Posted to: Legal, Newtown

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Nicole Hockley and Bill Sherlach

Relatives of two Newtown victims appealed for privacy Wednesday by asking a task force to advocate against disclosing 911 recordings from the shooting. They also requested that state’s attorneys not disclose certain details in their pending report.

Nicole Hockley’s son, Dylan, and Bill Sherlach’s wife, Mary, were among the 26 victims of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Both surviving family members testified before a panel Wednesday that has been weighing the privacy rights of crime victims against public disclosure laws in the wake of the massacre.

Hockley and Sherlach appealed to the group to preserve a recently-passed law exempting the release of some police records pertaining to homicide victims and minor victims. They also asked that the law be extended to prevent the release of the 911 call recordings from the incident.

The new statute, passed in June, does not prevent the release of the emergency 911 recordings from that day. However, Danbury State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky III filed paperwork Wednesday in New Britain Superior Court to appeal a September Freedom of Information Commission decision that ordered Newtown police to release the tapes.

The two family members asked the task force to recommend extending the FOI exemption law to prevent the release of the tapes.

“Is there any real need to disclose or make public what the last minutes of 26 people sounded like in the middle of a slaughter?” Sherlach asked, adding that a balance between privacy and the public’s right to know could be achieved through the use of transcripts and assessing situations on a case-by-case basis.

However, during the hearing Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane pointed out that “a great volume” of information on the incident will be released to the public when Sedensky finishes and releases a final report on the shooting.

Hockley said the families were aware of the pending report and had been in contact with Sedensky.

“He’s been very clear and open with us in terms of what will be redacted and what will not be redacted so that we can prepare ourselves for the parts that won’t be redacted,” Hockley said.

After the hearing, Hockley said she felt that Sedensky and police were doing their best to protect the victims of the incident while releasing factual information. She said she has had conversations with Sedensky regarding what information she would like to see redacted from the final report. She said no assurances were given about what the report will contain.

“I’m hoping that no names are in the report. That would be first and foremost,” Hockley told reporters. “Anything that can identify anyone in terms of exactly where they died, how they died, anything like that. That is just as bad as a photo. Journalists, you know, words are huge and so much more than just pictures sometimes. Descriptive elements can be just as damaging.”

Hockley said she trusts Sedensky to help the families of the victims.

“He’s going to do what he can from a legal standpoint,” Sherlach added.

In the more than 10 months since the incident, the timing of Sedensky’s report has been the subject of much scrutiny. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has expressed some frustration with the time it has taken to complete the report. Kane, the chief states attorney, frequently gets questions from reporters on the report’s release.

“Attorney Sedensky has a very large amount of work to do. He’s working as fast as he can. I talk to him almost every day,” Kane said Friday. “He said in the fall, the fall lasts until . . . mid December. I expect it before that.”

On Wednesday, Hockley said a mid December release also would be problematic for the families of the victims because of the first anniversary of the Dec. 14 shooting. 

“It will come out when it comes out and I just personally don’t hope it comes out around the anniversary mark. We’ve got enough on our plates,” Hockley said.

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(4) Archived Comments

posted by: DirtyJobsGUy | October 30, 2013  3:51pm

The argument presented should be no different if applied to a single murder or assault.  But how else can we know if the Police were truly responsive or if other deficiencies in protection occurred.  To allow the authorities full range in withholding information will certainly not help prevent future tragedies.  Summaries and heavily redacted tapes are like edited interviews.

posted by: scruffylookin | October 30, 2013  7:31pm

If this had been any other murder involving children I could sympathize with these relatives more easily. However, one of the aftereffects of this tragedy were sweeping changes to already strict gun laws that did nothing to make any CT citizen safer, only restrict the rights of those already abiding by the law. And these changes were rushed through by emergency certification without knowing all pertinent facts regarding Sandy Hook. If these relatives testified in support of those new laws then they can’t now ask to suppress information.

posted by: Noteworthy | October 30, 2013  8:57pm

The views of these folks should not matter at all nor should it be taken into consideration any more than the opinion of anybody else. These folks welcomes the hundreds of thousands of dollars the public gave to the community and for which they demanded the lion’s share. They also demanded a new school at taxpayer expense when a new school was not needed. They just wanted one. And they then have the stones to say that public information should be suppressed, that there should be secret discussion at the top level of our government where this suppression law was hatched and passed in the dead of night. It’s just wrong.

posted by: dano860 | October 30, 2013  11:03pm

Now we can expect a hacked up (redacted) report from the ‘commission’ and Mr. Sedensky. More pandering, picking and choosing.
One woman writes book about her brave son and that’s received with fanfare. Sure the profits will go to the fund or something like that but still…
The events of the Sparks, Nevada shooting were no less horrific than Newtown but they were released within the week. Why, because it was a poor area outside of Reno? Because there were ONLY two victims?
We are stuck in some kind of elitist eastern state aura.
F.O.I. has a simple meaning and we should have access to everything (short of the photo’s) to review and make improvements on.