NEW BRITAIN – A Connecticut judge said November 8 that he wants to hear the 911 recordings from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting before ruling whether they can remain secret as a state prosecutor and the town of Newtown fight an order to release them.
The state's Freedom of Information Commission ruled in September that the recordings should be provided to The Associated Press, but a prosecutor asked for a stay while he appeals that order.
New Britain Superior Court Judge Eliot Prescott said he wants to listen to the calls before deciding on the request for a stay. He set a November 25 hearing on whether the recordings can be sealed so he can access and hear them.
The AP has sought the recordings in part to examine the police response to the December 14 massacre of 20 children and six educators inside the school. If the 911 recordings are released, the AP would review the content and determine what, if any, of it would meet the news cooperative's standards for publication.
At the two-hour hearing, the prosecutor leading the Newtown investigation, State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky III, urged the judge to consider the anguish that releasing the tapes could cause for victims' families. He said the judge should consider effects on others including people who might hesitate to dial 911 out of fear their voice would end up on a newscast.
“The public is not represented by Jack Gillum and The Associated Press,” Sedensky said, referring to the AP reporter who filed the initial public records request.
Victor Perpetua, attorney for the FOI commission who argued with the AP against a stay, countered that it's important to release the recordings because the public has a right to know how police acted in a moment of crisis.
“At a certain point, people ask what is there to hide,” Perpetua said. “The longer it is delayed, the more questions are raised.”
Recordings of 911 calls are routinely released, but the Newtown police department and Sedensky sought to keep the Sandy Hook calls secret, arguing they could jeopardize the investigation. After the AP took its challenge to the FOI commission, Sedensky argued that releasing them could violate survivors who deserve special protection as victims of child abuse. At Friday's hearing, he said releasing the identities of 911 callers could also subject them to unwanted attention from people including reporters.
“If they had wanted to talk to the media, they would have called them,” Sedensky said.
William Fish, an attorney representing the AP, argued that the child abuse exemption claimed by Sedensky is so broad that if it's permitted, it could lead to the withholding of records in many other cases including the report that Sedensky is due to file himself this fall on the Newtown investigation.
The gunman who carried out the massacre was 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who killed his mother earlier in the day and committed suicide as police arrived at the school.
Some people who lost loved ones in the shooting have said they do not want to see the tapes released. An attorney for Newtown, Nathan Zezula, said that after the FOI commission's ruling in September the town's police department received alarmed phone calls including some from people who dialed 911 on the day of the massacre.
Investigators have not revealed a possible motive for the shooting.