- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2016

More than two dozen media organizations and news outlets sued the city of Orlando Thursday in an effort to obtain audio recordings of emergency phone calls made during the Pulse nightclub shooting this month.

Plaintiffs including The Associated Press, CNN and The New York Times filed the suit in Orange County Circuit Court after city officials refused previous requests for public records filed by news groups in the wake of the June 12 massacre.

Specifically, the organizations are hoping to acquire audio from 911 phone calls between law enforcement officials and gunman Omar Mateen made in during the assault, as well as recordings of more than 600 other calls from during the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

“There is a strong public interest in fully evaluating how first responders and police reacted during the most critical phases of this incredible tragedy,” wrote attorneys for the news groups. “Information gleaned from the actual conversations with Mateen and others lies at the core of understanding exactly how events unfolded and will provide critical insight into the propriety of the government’s tactical response.

“In other words, to realize the central goal of open government laws,” the attorneys wrote.

Authorities have cited several statutes to justify withholding public records related to the incident, but the news groups claim none of them are compelling. Additionally, the release of the records is warranted under a “good cause” exception on the books in Florida, the complaint contests.

To settle the suit, the news groups have asked a court to review the documents being sought and determine as soon as possible whether any of them can be provided to the press.

“No public records law exemptions exist that would prevent the inspection or copying of the Mateen Conversations or the Emergency Calls in their entirety,” the attorneys wrote.

Howard Marks, a First Amendment attorney in Orlando, told the city’s Sentinel newspaper that officials may have erred by failing thus far to even review the 602 phone calls made to dispatchers requested by the news groups.

“The problem is that the city is making a blanket objection on every one of these calls,” he said. “It’s possible there may be a few that fall under that exemption, but you just can’t take a complete exemption on everything.”

Forty-nine people were killed and 53 seriously wounded when Mateen opened fire inside the Pulse nightclub earlier this month. In a court filing of its own made Thursday, the city argued that the FBI doesn’t want the audio recordings made public because the massacre is still the subject of a federal investigation, AP reported.

“We support the FBI’s commitment not to compromise the integrity of the investigation, but we must balance that with our responsibility to be transparent with the Orlando community and comply with state and federal laws,” Mayor Buddy Dyer said in a statement, the Sentinel reported.

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