The Obama administration is now telling local law enforcement agencies that they may not release the audio of the 911 calls that Islamic extremist Omar Mateen made during his slaughter at an Orlando gay nightclub.
During his three-hour shooting spree, Mateen called local police through 911 several times, speaking sometimes in English, at other times in Arabic, and declared allegience to the Islamic State.
Local media outlets filed a lawsuit directed against the city of Orlando requesting release of the actual audio of Mateen’s 911 calls, as well as other records of the incident.
In response to the lawsuit, the FBI sent a letter to Orlando and the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, informing them as to how they should proceed with record requests, according to The Orlando Sentinel.
The letter tells local agencies to deny inquiries and further directs them to “immediately notify the FBI of any requests your agency received” so “the FBI can seek to prevent disclosure through appropriate channels, as necessary.”
By way of explanation, the FBI said that:
the FBI is concerned that public disclosure of such records or information at this time will adversely affect our ability to effectively investigate the shooting and bring the matter to resolution; could endanger the safety of law enforcement officers, and other individuals who have participated in or are otherwise connected with the investigation; and risks unduly prejudicing any prosecutions that may result from the investigation.
The letter was signed by Paul Wysopal, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Tampa field office.
Under Florida law, the 911 recordings and associated records that were requested are public in nature and thus subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, according to Barbara Petersen, President of the First Amendment Foundation.
The “FBI doesn’t have the authority to hijack Florida’s constitution, which guarantees us a right of access to all non-exempt public records,” she said.
Lawyers for media outlets argue in their lawsuit that the records should be released because “a strong public interest in fully evaluating how first responders and police reacted during the most critical phases of this incredible tragedy,” according to court filings.
The city of Orlando, in its own pleadings, said that at the “direction of the FBI” and “out of respect for the Pulse shooting victims and the families,” it has not released all of the records.
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