Judge orders release of Sandy Hook 911 recordings

Says it will help public assess police response to tragedy, but order is under appeal

Toy cars are seen with candles at a makeshift memorial on December 18, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.
2013 AFP

A Connecticut judge on Tuesday ordered the release of the 911 recordings from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, but the tapes will not be immediately unsealed.

The state's Freedom of Information Commission ruled in September that the recordings should be provided to The Associated Press, but Danbury State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky III asked for a stay while he appeals that order. Sedensky has argued the release of the tapes could cause anguish for victims' families.

New Britain Superior Court Judge Eliot Prescott denied his request Tuesday, but the tapes remain sealed until Dec. 4 to give the prosecutor a chance to appeal. Sedensky said he is reviewing the judge's decision to determine what action he might now take.

"The court recognizes and is deeply sensitive to the fact that the families and friends of those who died in this tragedy, as well as others in the greater Newtown community, may desire that the 911 audio recordings never be released," the judge wrote. "The public airing by the media of some or all of the recordings that will undoubtedly follow their release will likely be a searing reminder of the horror and pain of that awful day."

But the judge said the recordings are public, and he rejected arguments for keeping them sealed. He said that the release will help the public gauge the appropriateness of law enforcement's response.

"In fact, public analysis of the recordings may serve to vindicate and support the professionalism and bravery of the first responders ... who themselves have undoubtedly been subject to emotional turmoil and pain in witnessing the scene at Sandy Hook Elementary School," Prescott wrote. "Delaying the release of the audio recordings, particularly where the legal justification to keep them confidential is lacking, only serves to fuel speculation about and undermine confidence in our law enforcement officials."

On Dec. 14, 2012, Adam Lanza killed his mother while she was sleeping in her bed, then proceeded to Sandy Hook Elementary School where he killed 20 first grade students, the principal, school psychologist, and four teachers before taking his own life.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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