NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut judge said he will listen Monday to the 911 recordings from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting before ruling on whether they can be publicly released.
New Britain Superior Court Judge Eliot Prescott said he will issue his decision soon after listening to the tapes, but that it will not be issued Monday. The state's Freedom of Information Commission ruled in September that the recordings should be provided to The Associated Press, but a prosecutor asked for a stay while he appeals that order. The AP has sought the recordings in part to examine the police response to the massacre, which left 20 first-graders and six educators dead.
Prescott ruled Monday that the recordings should continue to remain sealed while he reviews them. He said the seal is necessary to preserve the confidentiality of recordings until he rules on the request for a stay, sought by State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky III.
"The plaintiff's interest in preserving the confidentiality of the audio recordings until such time as his motion for stay can be fairly adjudicated outweighs the public's interest in immediate access to such information," Prescott said in his ruling.
Neither the information commission nor the AP voiced objections. During Monday's hearing, Victor Perpetua, an attorney for the information commission, said the recordings had been leaked by at least one member of law enforcement to the media, referring to a report last week from Hearst Connecticut Newspapers. Perpetua asked Prescott whether he believed that development to be relevant in his ultimate decision on whether to release the audio tapes.
Prescott said that he did not know whether the information in the Hearst report came from law enforcement sources and that he had no plans to hold a hearing on who might have leaked the tapes or whether the information was accurate.
"I think I have what I need at this time," he said, referring to making his final decision on the tapes. Sedensky is expected Monday afternoon to release a long-awaited summary report on the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting.
At a hearing this month, Sedensky urged the judge to consider the anguish that releasing the tapes could cause for victims' families. He has said the judge should consider effects on others, including people who might hesitate to dial 911 out of fear their voice would end up on a newscast.
But Perpetua argued with the AP against Sedensky's requested stay, arguing that it is important to release the recordings because the public has a right to know how police acted in a moment of crisis.
Recordings of 911 calls are routinely released, but the Newtown police department and Sedensky sought to keep the Sandy Hook calls secret, arguing they could jeopardize the investigation. After the AP took its challenge to the information commission, Sedensky argued that releasing them could violate survivors who deserve special protection as victims of child abuse and subject them to unwanted attention from people, including reporters.
If the recordings are released, the AP would review the content and determine what, if any, of it would meet the news cooperative's standards for publication.