Should Newtown's 911 tapes be made public?

Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News
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Should 911 tapes from the Newtown, Conn., massacre be released to the public?

That's what a judge in Connecticut is trying to decide, after the appeal of a September ruling that ordered the release of the phone calls that Newtown police received from Sandy Hook Elementary School on the morning of Dec. 14, 2012, when a 20-year-old gunman killed 20 children and six adults in one of the deadliest shootings in U.S. school history.

Judge Eliot Prescott heard arguments from both sides Friday.

The Associated Press had requested the 911 tapes be released under the Freedom of Information Act so the public can judge the police response to the killings. But the state attorney, Stephen Sedensky, argued that the calls — which were "being made on the murder of children as it occurs" — are too gruesome for residents to bear.

"If the public never hears those cries for help during this process, they won't be harmed," Sedensky said.

Victor Perpetua, the lawyer for the state's Freedom of Information Commission, disagreed.

"Every time someone calls 911, there is a belief that there is a crime," Perpetua said. "That is part of the record, but to me the more important part of the record was what response did that person get? How was that information taken? What was the time period?

"I don't mean to say anything wrong happened," he continued. "I don't know one way or the other. At a certain point people start to ask, 'What is there to hide?' I'm saying the longer it's delayed, the more questions that are raised and that delays in providing access to this kind of record increases public insecurity about their police departments."

An attorney for Newtown Police said the department wants to keep the tapes away from "voyeuristic interests."

In an earlier appeal, Sedensky argued certain content of 911 calls, like those of sexual assault victims, can and should be shielded from public view.

“It is highly doubtful that the legislature would have wanted a sexual assault victim to have to choose between calling the police and having his or her 911 call on every radio station,” Sedensky wrote.

But history is not on Sedensky's side: 911 tapes from previous mass shootings, including the 2012 Aurora, Colo., movie theater massacre, have been made public.

Prescott said he would listen to the Newtown tapes and issue a decision Nov. 25.

"I can't sit here, counselor, and conduct a poll and ask the world how many people want to hear these 911 tapes because they'll find it sickeningly entertaining, how many of them want to hear them for totally prurient interests or how many have legitimate concerns as citizens about knowing how its government is functioning," Prescott said. "The issue is this ultimately is a public policy choice as made by the legislature in balancing all of the interests — of crime victims, of law enforcement — and not getting in the way of law enforcement doing their sworn duty and the right of the public to know. And it is a delicate balance."

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