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Task Force Considers Release Of Sandy Hook Photos, Recordings

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By SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Most of the families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims want a recent Connecticut law barring the release of certain crime records to be expanded to include other materials including 911 audio tapes, according to an attorney representing 22 of the 26 families who lost relatives in the shooting.

Morgan Rueckert said Wednesday the families worry about the sounds captured Dec. 14 in 911 phone calls being heard by the public, including their other children.

“It’s very hard in this case because the grief and the fear and the anguish is so overwhelming and they very much fear the perpetuation of that,” he said.

Rueckert, a Hartford attorney who said he’s not charging the families, testified before a state task force developing recommendations to the General Assembly on balancing victim privacy with the public’s right to know. It comes as state prosecutors say they will appeal a recent order by the state Freedom of Information Commission to release the Newtown 911 tapes.

In June, Connecticut lawmakers passed legislation that prevents the public release of crime scene photos and video evidence depicting a homicide victim if those records could constitute an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” of the victim or the victim’s surviving family members. The new law also created a one-year moratorium on the release of certain portions of audiotape and other recordings in which the condition of a homicide victim is described. The exemption did not include 911 emergency call recordings, however.

Rueckert said those same protections should be extended to 911 audio tapes, should they constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. He said surrounding states have similar language in their open records laws.

Several media representatives and open government advocates, however, urged the panel on Wednesday not to recommend further restrictions on Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act, arguing that such information can be crucial for journalists’ investigations, whether the material is published or not. They warned that more restrictions on public access to records could have unintended consequences.

Klarn DePalma, chairman of the Connecticut Broadcasters Association, said today’s viewers are demanding investigative journalism.

“They want government held accountable,” he said. “They want a check and a balance.”

Various editors said their news outlets take great pains to review material before publishing it, taking into consideration whether its release would be appropriate.

But Rueckert said times have changed and while the professional media have standards, the Internet has provided others with the ability to publish crime scene photos and other materials that could be considered inappropriate for a newspaper or TV station to use.

“The reality is, every person now with a computer is an editor, a journalist and a publisher,” Rueckert said. “The law needs to change to keep up and to stay in line with our peers.”

Colleen Murphy, executive director and general counsel of Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Commission, said state lawmakers in Connecticut originally made it a point to adopt a more open records law than in surrounding states.

“When we change the law, let’s be clear we’re choosing to do something else,” she said.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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