June 20, 2016 – US News & World Report
by Steven Nelson
Federal officials professed a commitment to “the highest level of transparency possible” Monday after uncensoring two easy-to-guess names in the transcript of a 50-second call between Orlando mass murderer Omar Mateen and a 911 police dispatcher.
But experts in federal and Florida open records laws say much more transparency will come as people seek access to the recording itself and a full readout or recording of three subsequent calls between Mateen and police, totaling about 28 minutes.
The experts say open records laws likely require release of each of the conversations, which were only excerpted Monday but for the 911 call, which initially had “Islamic State” and the name of the group’s leader, “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” censored.
“I suspect the redactions are a gambit to delay or foot drag on the release of records that ultimately a court would order released,” says Villanova University law professor Tuan Samahon. “Delay, after all, can be a powerful tool to help defeat political accountability for failing to follow prior leads on the suspect and to avoid use of the tragedy by political opponents.”
Tom Fitton, leader of the conservative government transparency group Judicial Watch, says his group will consider suing for the records based on the response it receives to an already filed FOIA request.
“This is a case of the FBI and the Justice Department making it up as it goes along. It’s politics, it’s not law — it’s not anything I recognize under FOIA,” he says.
If the records are indeed denied by federal FOIA officials or even federal courts, they still are covered by Florida’s relatively lax Sunshine Law, and leading transparency advocate Barbara Petersen believes the raw recordings of each of Mateen’s calls with police will be released.
“This record in the hands of Loretta Lynch is subject to FOIA, but the same record in the hands of Orlando PD is subject to Florida law,” says Petersen, leader of the First Amendment Foundation, where for two decades she’s battled for records in a variety of high profile state cases. [READ MORE]