WASHINGTON — The D.C. police department is refusing to release a copy of a 911 call made after a shooting at the headquarters of a conservative Christian lobbying group, even though such recordings are treated as public records in many other jurisdictions.
The Associated Press had requested a copy of the Aug. 15 recording under the District of Columbia’s open records law. But the department rejected that request, saying the call was part of an ongoing FBI investigation, that the caller was a witness in the investigation and that it would not be possible to edit the recording to redact sensitive portions of the call.
“The release of the 911 tape and/or the identity and telephone number of the caller may interfere with any enforcement proceedings and may expose the caller and possibly other witnesses to harassment and intimidation,” according to a letter the department sent the AP.
District officials have used similar justifications in denying other requests for 911 recordings. An opinion last May from the executive office of the mayor invoked a 911 caller’s privacy rights in denying the appeal of a reporter whose request for a recording had been denied. The opinion said 911 calls were not presumed to be public records under the D.C. code, and that since officials didn’t have the technological capabilities to modify the audio recording, they didn’t have to disclose it.
The department instead supplied what it calls an “event chronology,” a document that gives a bare-bones summary of the initial report of the shooting and describes which police units responded to the scene and at what time.
Open records laws pertaining to 911 calls do vary throughout the country, but the calls are more or less presumed to be public in many states.
Floyd Lee Corkins II is charged in federal court with shooting a security guard at the Family Research Council headquarters. Authorities say Corkins told the guard, Leo Johnson, that he didn’t like the organization’s policies before opening fire in the lobby. The guard was shot in the arm but survived and managed to restrain Corkins, who authorities say was carrying sandwiches from Chick-fil-A — a fast-food chain that made headlines this summer when its president reaffirmed his opposition to gay marriage.
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