News media sue so you can hear Orlando’s tearful calls to 911 (Really)

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Scott Gatz

“Under Florida law, the public has a right to know. That’s what we are asking for — compliance with state law,” declared Aminda Marqués Gonzalez, executive editor of the Miami Herald. The newspaper’s parent company, McClatchy newspapers, joined a lawsuit filed Thursday by 25 news organizations against the City of Orlando, for access to 911 recordings and transcripts of those calls made the night of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

The news media corporations from across Florida and around the country are demanding access to not just the 911 calls that the Pulse nightclub shooter made while he was inside the club, but also the 603 additional calls for help that were made during the attack, presumably by patrons and concerned relatives and friends.

Forty-nine people were killed, 53 wounded, early on June 12, when a Florida man armed with an assault rifle and a semi-automatic handgun opened fire inside the gay nightclub, on what was promoted as “Latin Night.” Most of the patrons and employees in attendance were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The gunman swore allegiance to a terrorist group and investigators believe he targeted his victims because they were LGBTQ. There are 28 minutes of recorded conversations between the killer and first responders, reported the Orlando Sentinel, one of the media companies suing for their release.

The city has refused to release transcripts of all but one of the 911 calls, contending they are exempt from Florida’s public records law because they recorded people being killed. The news organizations argue that stipulation in the law is irrelevant in the case of the Pulse shootings because of what the investigation has revealed thus far. “The federal government has stated that there were no reports of gunfire during the three-hour standoff. Thus no recordings created during that time could have captured any killings,” according to the lawsuit as reported by The Herald.

The media also cite a 2012 ruling by a Connecticut court that 911 calls made during a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School were not exempt, despite laws that restrict releasing child abuse records, as Politico reported.

Orlando filed a countersuit against one of the news groups, the Associated Press, claiming the calls remain part of an active, ongoing investigation. The city’s filing says the recordings are being withheld “out of respect for the Pulse shooting victims and the families” and at the “direction of the FBI,” and insists that the “killing of a person” restriction does indeed apply.
All this comes just days after the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation knuckled under pressure from conservative lawmakers and the media, to release the full, unredacted transcript of one of the four calls the gunman made to 911.

The original transcript of the 50-second call had redacted the gunman’s declaration of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State. The authorities explained in a joint statement that they had only intended to be “sensitive to the interests of the surviving victims” and to avoid giving terrorist organizations a “publicity platform.”

The White House insists no officials there were involved in the decisions to redact part of the transcript.

 

 

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