Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Friday defended a secretly drafted bill that would block public disclosure of some of the records compiled in the investigation of the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
The Courant revealed Tuesday that the staffs of Malloy and Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane had been working in secret with legislative leaders for weeks to draft a bill that would give the families of Newtown massacre victims the right to veto disclosure of any records from the investigation containing images or descriptions of victims’ injuries. Audio tapes of 911 emergency phone calls concerning the Newtown massacre also would not be made public under the bill, which is still in draft form and has not been voted on in either the House or Senate.
Up until Friday, Malloy’s chief of staff and director of communications had been handling questions about the governor’s office’s part in preparing the bill, which has been handled outside normal legislative procedures that include a public hearing. But Malloy was asked about it when he appeared Friday morning at Goodwin College in East Hartford with U.S. Rep. John Larson to talk about a new “manufacturing education initiative.”
Malloy said he supports the legislation, which hasn’t yet come to a vote, because the massacre was “a terrible thing” and there’s been “a lot of wacky coverage in the block world. … And, you know, listen, I’m going to stand with the parents. I want to protect them. I don’t think these pictures should be released, and I’m with them.”Police departments never release grisly crime-scene photos under existing law; they only become part of the public record if introduced as evidence in a trial, and generally are not published by news organizations even then.
On the other hand, tapes of 911 emergency calls are routinely released by police departments and around the country, and are used by citizens and the press to evaluate emergency response by the police. However, the secretly drafted bill would prohibit release of tapes of 911 calls in the Newtown case; only transcripts of those recordings would be available, at a charge of 50 cents a page.
A reporter asked Malloy about availability of audio recordings, and he responded this way: “Listen, if there are things that need to be protected for the sake of the families, like children’s conversations and that sort of thing, I think knowing what the words are would be sufficient. These people have been though a lot. This is an extraordinary set of circumstances that played out on Dec. 14. … As you know I was there. I’m going to try to help those people.”
The bill would only affect records of the Newtown massacre, and not criminal cases generally. Malloy was asked about the disparity that the bill would create in the treatment of victims — with the Newtown families receiving veto power over the release of any record of an image or description of a victim’s injuries, and with the families of victims in any other crime not receiving such treatment. It was an issue of potential unfairness that the state victim advocate had raised Thursday in a letter to Malloy.
“I think there are different circumstances,” Malloy said. “You know, when John Kennedy was assassinated, certain documents were frozen for 50 years. … There are circumstances that are greater than others. Perhaps in some senses ….” And then he stopped in mid-sentence and said: “If you [have] suggestions on what we can do to help those other people, you let me know.”
Malloy said that a reporter who asked about the disparity issue “wants to widen it” to cover non-Newtown cases, and “we’re trying to keep it as narrow as possible with respect to the hellacious events of Dec. 14 in Newtown.”He was asked if carving out Newtown from normal freedom of information procedures would feed the paranoia of so-called “truthers” who have made Internet videos suggesting that law enforcement authorities have hidden the truth about the massacre. He responded: “They’re nuts anyway, OK?”
Another reporter asked about the Newtown town clerk’s continued refusal to comply with the state Freedom of Information Law with regard to the release of death certificates for massacre victims. “I’m not getting involve din that,” Malloy said. “In point of fact, I think that there’s fairly universal agreement in the state of Connecticut that these families, and these children’s memories, and these teachers deserve a level of protection that should be taken up fairly quickly.”
Courant Staff Writer Mara Lee contributed to this report.