Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald sue Hollywood for records on nursing home deaths

In this Sept. 13 photo, a woman is transported from The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills as patients are evacuated after a loss of air conditioning due to Hurricane Irma in Hollywood, Florida. Photo: Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, File

Sun Sentinel by David Fleshler

October 12, 2017

The Sun Sentinel on Thursday joined a lawsuit by The Miami Herald to force the city of Hollywood to produce 911 calls and police reports on the nursing home that lost power in Hurricane Irma, resulting in the deaths of 14 residents.

Reporters had requested recordings of 911 calls from Sept. 13 and police incident reports from Sept. 13 and 14 involving the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, where the power supply to the air conditioning system failed in the storm, leading to a series of deaths in the sweltering heat and a mass evacuation.

The city denied the newspapers’ requests, although it agreed to produce logs of 911 calls in the days before the deaths.

In their lawsuit, the newspapers argue that the recordings and reports are public records and that the city has not cited any valid exemptions to the state open-records law in denying the request.

“The City is withholding from the public, and Plaintiffs, information which indisputably is public record under Chapter 119, Florida Statutes,” states the lawsuit, filed in Broward Circuit Court.

The city of Hollywood did not immediately return a call for comment.

The Hollywood Police Department and Florida Department of Law Enforcement have both opened criminal investigations into the nursing homes deaths, and Gov. Rick Scott announced an emergency rule requiring nursing homes to install generators within 60 days. The nursing home was ordered shut down.

In their lawsuit, the newspapers say the criminal investigations have no bearing on whether the records should be released.

“Because criminal investigative information does not shield the information sought, the City is unlawfully withholding this information,” the lawsuit states. [READ MORE]

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