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Newtown families ask panel to seal 911 tapes

Oct. 31, 2013 at 2:30 AM   |   Comments

HARTFORD, Conn., Oct. 31 (UPI) -- Family members of two Newtown massacre victims pleaded with a Connecticut task force not to release 911 recordings of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

Bill Sherlach, whose wife, Mary, was among the six educators and 20 first-graders killed Dec. 14, told task force members letting the public listen to the sounds of death that day would serve no one.

But in a compromise, he recommended the state release the emergency call transcripts while withholding the audio recordings.

"Transcripts can relay all the information that the public wants without having to hear the sounds of a slaughter in the background," Sherlach told the Task Force on Victim Privacy and the Public's Right to Know.

State lawmakers approved a measure in June that bars the public release of crime scene photos and other evidence deemed an "unwarranted invasion" of the privacy of a victim or the victim's family.

The measure did not address 911 emergency call recordings, which Connecticut normally makes public.

The state's Freedom of Information Commission last month ordered the Newtown Police Department to release the 911 calls.

The task force is reviewing the balance between the public's right to know and the rights of crime victims. It is expected to make a recommendation to the state Legislature early next year.

The state's attorney leading the investigation into the Newtown massacre filed an appeal to the Connecticut Superior Court after the hearing ended asking the court to stay the FOI commission's decision.

"Crime scene pictures that are currently protected need to stay protected and I ask that that same protection be extended to the 911 calls," Nicole Hockley told the panel.

Hockley's 6-year-old son, Dylan, was among the children killed.

Hockley and Sherlach both told the task force they valued open government and the public's right to know.

"I am a conservative and the idea of an open government resonates with me," Sherlach said in remarks quoted by the Hartford Courant.

But "there must be some balance between making sure the public's right to know is sustained while the victims of certain atrocities' right to privacy is also honored," he said.

Hockley said she has received photos of dead children in the mail. She said she fears Dylan's older brother will find traumatic massacre information.

"Without protection, what is he going to find first?" she asked. "The awful hoaxers, who are still actively targeting us with hate-filled messages? The countless news stories, some with balanced, sensitive reports; others riddled with speculation and incorrect facts? Or photos of his little brother with five gunshot wounds to his torso and head?"

Task force member James H. Smith, president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, said keeping crime information secret could limit the news media's role as a watchdog.

"I've been struggling with other families that will be in the future victims of violent crime," Smith said.

"We've heard many examples of families whose members were murdered but police or judicial response was incorrect," he said.

"My concern is the families in the future who are the victim of crime and then of official misconduct," he added. "If we hide all these records from everyone forever, how will those families find justice?"

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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