Judge: Release Newtown 911 Recordings

By Evie Blad — November 26, 2013 1 min read
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New Britain Superior Court Judge Eliot Prescott ordered Danbury State’s Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky III to release recordings of 911 calls to report the Dec. 14, 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Hartford Courant reported.

In his order, Prescott sided with the state’s Freedom of Information Commission, which previously determined that the phone calls were not exempt from the law state open-records laws. He set a Dec. 4 release date for the recordings to allow for any appeals of his decision.

Prescott’s ruling came a day after the release of a summary report of the investigation into the shootings, which followed weeks of emotional preparation in the town. Some criticized Sedensky for what they saw as a delayed release of that report. School safety experts and public safety officials have said review of the the more detailed account of the shootings would help inform discussions about policy changes state and local governments have considered in their aftermath.

Efforts to balance the public’s right to know with the emotional interests of grieving families have become a major issue in the aftermath of the school shooting, and the situation would make a perfect case study for media ethics and First Ammendment discussions. Sedensky sought to keep the 911 tapes from becoming public in court challenges with the Associated Press, which has said it wants to use the recordings to analyze police response to the violence. But families say widespread media coverage of new details nearly a year after the killings only exacerbates their pain, and some who side with them have argued there isn’t a legitimate public interest in releasing the recordings.

But Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra, who has been critical of national media swarming to the small town, argued last week for the recordings’ release. She compared the slow release of details about the case to “Chinese water torture,” and she said the recordings’ release may help end those leaks, the Associated Press reported.

Llodra wrote a blog post Monday about the release of the report, the 911 calls and the preparations for media coverage of the one-year anniversary of the shootings.

Each of these happenings has the potential to feel like a body blow - it takes our breath away and we struggle to regain our balance. No one experiences these events more deeply and more painfully than the families of the victims. Consider too the cumulative emotional impact of this past year as felt by every parent of every Sandy Hook student, by their teachers and staff, and by those who love and care for them. Part of our despair is that we can do little to ease their personal pain. We cannot stop the drip-drip-drip of leaked information - a problem that has plagued us for months and months. Is it possible that those persons who feel compelled to speak without authority and without permission do not know the harm they do? And we cannot stop the release of whatever information the courts determine must be released. And we cannot, despite massive efforts of many, ensure that we will not be overrun by media on December 14. So, what can we do? We can tap into that inner strength we have called upon again and again over this past year to confront what we must, manage that hurt as best we can, and put it behind us somehow. We can be sure to not let others control our destiny. We cannot change what happened at Sandy Hook School; we can only choose how we respond."

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.