The Black and Puerto Rican caucus is joining the Newtown families in their fight to keep the crime scene photos and 911 tapes of the second-worst school shooting in U.S. history from ever seeing the light of day.
Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, said the caucus intervened in discussions about the bill in an effort to broaden it to include all crime victims.
He said the victims of crime in his community are no different than the Newtown victims.
“We recognize that Newtown was a specific situation, but it needs to incorporate everybody,” Holder-Winfield said.
The partnership with the Newtown families, who were lobbying lawmakers as recently as Monday, isn’t unusual. Urban communities like Holder-Winfield’s where there were 155 homicides between 2005 and 2012, have found themselves working with the Newtown families on issues such as gun violence.
But concerned about backlash from watchdog groups and news organizations, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s legal staff was careful to narrowly tailor their legislation to the massacre in Newtown.
The draft language of the bill Malloy proposed would require that certain records only be released with the consent of the victims of the shooting or the victim’s immediate family. It would exempt the crime scene photos and audio of the 911 tapes, but it would offer a transcript of the audio.
“Nothing shall require the disclosure of any record that consists of 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,” the draft legislation said.
The Black and Puerto Rican caucus wants to see it broadened to all crime victims.
Holder-Winfield said they want to exempt crime scene photos, but the audio of the 911 tapes “is more negotiable than the photos.”
At this point, Rep. Gerald Fox, who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, said everything is on the table and they hope to reach a conclusion before midnight June 5—the end of the legislative session.
Rep. Russ Morin, D-Wethersfield, said he’s not certain the FOI exemption should apply to all homicide victims, but he is open to discussing it. He said it should certainly apply to all children.
“I would have voted yesterday to not allow all those pictures from being disclosed, so the families can have some closure,” Morin said.
But balancing the needs of crime victims with the state’s Freedom of Information laws is tricky for some lawmakers. Morin said he doesn’t like to create exemptions to the state’s Freedom of Information laws, but he wants to help the families complete the grieving process.
“I don’t know why anyone would need to see those photos,” Morin said.
The discussion on the draft legislation has centered on whether the legislature should exempt disclosure of information related to children victims, or if it should include all crime victims. There’s also a proposal to do a one-year moratorium on the release of all records, while the legislature creates a task force to study the issue.
Holder-Winfield said he’s fine with keeping all the information secret for one year, while the legislature studies the issue.
At the same time, Morin points out a one year moratorium will have the Newtown parents waiting one more year for closure.