Newtown parents push state to protect shooting records

Scarlett Lewis, left, mother of Sandy Hook School shooting victim Jesse Lewis, Robbie and Alissa Parker, parents of victim Emilie Parker, left center, Krista Rekos, right center, mother of victim Jessica Rekos, and Nelba Marquez-Greene, mother of victim Ana Marquez-Greene, right, listen during a news conference at the Capitol in Hartford, Conn., Friday, May 31, 2013.  Family members of the school shooting victims are making a last-minute appearance at the state Capitol to urge Connecticut legislators to pass a bill that would block the public release of crime scene photos and other records from the massacre.
Scarlett Lewis, left, mother of Sandy Hook School shooting victim Jesse Lewis, Robbie and Alissa Parker, parents of victim Emilie Parker, left center, Krista Rekos, right center, mother of victim Jessica Rekos, and Nelba Marquez-Greene, mother of victim Ana Marquez-Greene, right, listen during a news conference at the Capitol in Hartford, Conn., Friday, May 31, 2013. Family members of the school shooting victims are making a last-minute appearance at the state Capitol to urge Connecticut legislators to pass a bill that would block the public release of crime scene photos and other records from the massacre. Jessica Hill/AP Photo

Hartford — Families of the Newtown shooting victims came to the Capitol Friday to lobby for changes to the state's Freedom of Information law that would ban the release of crime-scene photos and 911 audiotapes related to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

The draft legislation also would keep from public release the death certificates of the 20 first-graders and six educators killed in Newtown last Dec. 14, as well as the names of minors who gave witness statements.

"I am fully supportive of an open and transparent government, but I can't understand how distributing graphic photos of murdered teachers and children serves any purpose other than causing our families more grief," said Dean Pinto, father of shooting victim Jack Pinto.

Twenty Newtown parents lobbied legislative leaders and brought with them a letter signed by more than 30 Newtown parents asking legislators to pass a bill to impose the ban.

Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane said he supported restricting crime-scene photos of dead people and graphic 911 audio recordings, which is narrower than the draft language.

Colleen Murphy, executive director and general counsel for the state's Office of Government Accountability and FOI Commission, said that while the proposal is limited to the Newtown tragedy, the commission is concerned that "this is a precedent that might apply to all crime scenes down the road."

Murphy said her office wasn't taking a position on the proposal. But she added that if legislators approve FOI legislation this session, the narrower the scope of the law, the better.

"The better course is not to start changing the FOI act in total, to not create broad exemptions to disclosure in the law enforcement area when there really hasn't been a formal process that the legislature underwent," Murphy said.

Normally, a bill would be discussed in committee and receive a public hearing. This proposal was negotiated in private and appeared at the end of the session.

A letter sent from the Connecticut Daily Newspapers Association, the Connecticut Broadcasters Association and the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information asked the legislature and governor's administration to move with caution.

"We maintain that public access to investigative reports, 9-1-1 Emergency Call transcripts and recordings, death certificates, and the like, serve the public's best interest by permitting the public to monitor the performance of its government," according to the letter.

But Gilles Rousseau, father of Newtown victim Lauren Rousseau, a substitute teacher, said he has been harrassed because of photographs that were distributed showing his daughter's car with bullet holes in it.

Rousseau said he didn't care whether the bullet holes were made by Adam Lanza's gun before Lanza entered the school or after. "Lauren is dead," he said as he exhaled and fought back tears. "But she has become the fuel of many crazy people out there, and I can only imagine what will happen when the Internet is flooded with hundreds of thousands of photos that depict the actual gruesome scene."

Rousseau said he wants the legislation to pass to maintain his daughter's last shred of privacy.

Jennifer Hensel, mother of Newtown victim Avielle Richman, said she didn't want her daughter's photograph to be used in a "political death match," referring to documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, who said the photos should be released to spur gun control laws, according to news reports.

"There is no reason to look," Hensel said.

Nicole Hockley, mother of Newtown victim Dylan Hockley, said she would like to see the legislation go further than Newtown. "As a mom and as a person, I have no reason to see crime-scene photos from any crime, and I would love personally to see a law that protects everyone, every other parent, every other child," she said. "However, this is a very special and unique incident that we're speaking of right now."

The draft legislation would keep from the public "any record that is a photograph, videotape, digital recording or other image or audio transmission or recording depicting the physical condition of any victim without the written consent of the victim or, if the victim is deceased, a member of the victim's immediate family."

While 911 audiotapes would not be released, a written transcript of the 911 call would be available. Murphy said that providing the transcripts would be better than providing nothing, but the audio could demonstrate to the public the caller's level of stress and whether police responded appropriately.

Murphy said she could understand the restriction of the Newtown crime-scene photos and exempting the names of children who gave witness statements. But in general, law enforcement records are released because the public has the right to understand the investigative process and understand whether the police acted appropriately.

Death certificates have been public information for a long time and do not contain any graphic information, Murphy said.

j.somers@theday.com

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