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Judge Overturns FOI Decision To Disclose Lanza Documents

Published: April 11, 2016

NEW BRITAIN — A Connecticut Superior Court judge has overturned a state Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC) decision to disclose the personal documents of Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old man who shot and killed 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, before killing himself.

In an April 8 decision, Judge Carl J. Schuman ruled in favor of the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) and also the state Division of Criminal Justice, which were the plaintiffs. The defendants in the case were the FOIC, The Hartford Courant, and its reporter David Altimari.

In January 2014, the newspaper requested from the plaintiffs copies of certain documents referred to in a state police report on the Sandy Hook shooting. After the plaintiffs did not provide those documents, the Courant filed an FOI complaint seeking the documents. After that FOI complaint was filed, the plaintiffs told the newspaper that the documents it was seeking were part of a criminal investigation and were not “public records” under the terms of the FOI Act.

In May 2015, the FOIC ruled that that the documents sought by the newspaper were “public records,” and thus subject to disclosure. The FOIC then ordered the plaintiffs to provide free copies of the documents to the newspaper.

The plaintiffs then appealed that decision in court.

The documents sought include a spiral-bound book written by the shooter entitled “The Big Book of Granny,” a photo of the Class of 2002-03 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and a “spreadsheet rank-ing mass murders by names, number killed, number injured, types of weapons used, and disposition.”

In his ruling to overturn the FOI decision, Judge Schuman acknowledged that there is “unquestionably a heightened public interest in these materials.”

The judge wrote that his decision on the case would apply to all future cases in which public disclosure is sought of privately created documents not used in a criminal trial that police have seized from innocent victims, witnesses, and suspects.

“The court must decide this case with those future cases in mind,” the judge wrote.

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