Jun. 16, 2016  

Orlando Authorities Refusing to Hand Over Public Records on Shooter

In the days following one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, many media outlets have sought out information on the life and background of the shooter. On Tuesday, The Miami Herald published this, saying that the Orlando Police Department and other law enforcement agencies are refusing to release public records that both The Herald and The Tampa Bay Times have requested.

Both outlets requested information on the shooter’s security guard license, which The Herald states he obtained a year ago. The Times requested from the Fort Pierce Police Department for “all cases in which [the shooter], his relatives, and others were named as a suspect, victim, or witness.” The police department refused and stated “the documents are part of an active criminal investigation.”

According to The Herald, two dozen media outlets have requested the 911 calls and the city of Orlando refuses to release the information.

Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, said that most of the records that were being requested were created long before Sunday’s attack.

“The records requested by the media are not active criminal investigative records; rather, these are records created before the investigation into the horrific events of Sunday morning in Orlando,” she said. “Many of the agencies are responding to such requests by saying, ‘ask the FBI.’ The FBI does not have the authority to hijack Florida’s constitution.”

Florida’s Sunshine Laws are some of the most open and broad records laws in the entire country, which is what The Times, The Herald, and others are trying to utilize in gaining information about the Orlando shooter.

Because of these setbacks, SPJ Florida is committed to aiding journalists and outlets in getting this information in a timely manner. If The Times and The Herald need help, SPJ is here to help from writing letters to getting legal aide.

In 2014, SPJ Florida set up a local Legal Defense Fund to help journalists in defending the freedom of speech and press guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. SPJ National also has a Legal Defense Fund that gives money to legal assistance, direct financial assistance, or both.

“Sometimes journalists are some of the first people on the scene, no matter how small or large that scene is,” SPJ Florida President Dori Zinn said. “We must always do our best to make sure those who are given the power to tell these stories have all the tools necessary to do so.”

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