Saturday, October 13, 2007

Open Door Law and 911 Calls

Some news about the Open Door Law from the Palladium-Item : Counselor rules in prosecutor's favor

In an advisory opinion issued Friday, the Indiana Public Access Counselor said the Wayne County prosecutor was within his rights in withholding public records involving the deaths of two Centerville girls in September.

Access counselor Heather Willis Neal said that Mike Shipman did not violate the Indiana Access to Public Records Act when he withheld the 911 tape of the call made Sept. 1 from the home of Dale and Lonny Stanley. Lonny Stanley phoned 911 after she found her daughter, Erin Stanley, not breathing in her bedroom.

Palladium-Item reporters had requested the tape as a public document from the county's 911 Dispatch Center. At the time, Shipman said the tape was part of the Centerville Police Department's investigation into the deaths of Erin and Kelly Stanley.

Investigatory records are exempt from public inspection and copying by Indiana law.

The Palladium-Item also requested the 911 tape of the Sept. 7 call to the dispatch center when Kelly Stanley was found dead in her home, but later was told that that taped recording did not exist because of a mechanical failure in the dispatch center.

Shipman said he was pleased with the access counselor's opinion.

"Her opinion supported my decision to delay releasing the 911 recording," he said. "I thought it was important to give law enforcement time to interview Mrs. (Lonny) Stanley about it before it was given to the public."

But Hoosier State Press Association attorney Steven Key disagreed with the opinion.

"As they were created, I do not believe the 911 tapes were investigatory records and just by their going from one agency to another does not change their status," Key said. "I still believe this record should be open for inspection and copying."

Neal's opinion also differs from one by her predecessor, Karen Davis, issued in 2006.

I doubt that court will be the next step but oen can hope for more than an advisory opinion. Why? Being adviory means that the iopnion binds no one. What would be a binding interpretation? One from the Indiana Supreme Court would be best.