After an appeal by the Associated Press, a Connecticut commission ruled Wednesday that the Newtown police department must release the tapes of 911 calls made during last December’s shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The police department has avoided turning the audio over, in no small part due to the sensitivity of the tragedy. The state legislature passed a law earlier this year creating exemptions to freedom-of-information requests, but those exceptions don’t apply to 911 tapes.
In yesterday’s meeting of the Freedom of Information Commission, the board ruled unanimously against the state. Danbury State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky III said he plans to appeal the panel’s ruling.
“This is a case about crime victims and witnesses who shouldn’t have to worry that their calls for help in their most vulnerable moments will become fodder for the evening news,” Sedensky told the commission at the hearing, according to the AP.
It is not unusual for the AP and other news outlets to vigorously pursue public records where “sunshine laws” allow access to those materials, but it’s easy to understand why these 911 files may be especially sensitive.
At the same time, it’s similarly easy to imagine that there are a number of school administrators—and police officers, teachers, and parents—who would like to see exactly what law enforcement learned and when—in short, how did information disseminate to emergency services, how did it change throughout the attack, and what kinds of questions were asked during the calls? As I wrote about in August, schools have struggled to build comprehensive emergency plans, so they could use all the guidance they can get, and these tapes could provide others with valuable insight.
The Newtown recordings remain concealed pending the outcome of the state’s appeal.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.