Why The Danbury State’s Attorney May Never Release The Sandy Hook Investigative ReportPosted: October 2, 2013
The media, on behalf of the citizens of Connecticut, should ask Danbury State’s Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky III the following two questions: 1) Do you believe that the children Adam Lanza murdered were, by virtue of his actions, victims of “child abuse,” as that term is defined under Connecticut law, and 2) do you believe that the contents of the Sandy Hook investigation report that you are preparing with the State Police contains information “relative to a child abuse investigation,” as that phrase is defined under state law?
If the answer to both questions is “yes,” and there is good reason to believe it may be, the public may never see the full Sandy Hook investigation report. At best, it will see a highly redacted document or a brief summary of its contents.
Why do I think there is good reason to believe that Mr. Sedensky will answer both questions in the affirmative? Because he made a very similar legal argument in a recent Freedom of Information Act case concerning a media request for the disclosure of the Sandy Hook 911 calls. He argued that the tapes of those calls were exempt from public disclosure because they contained information relative to a child abuse investigation.
The Freedom of Information Commission (“FOIC”) rejected Mr. Sedensky’s argument, but he has indicated that he will appeal its decision. Having made the legal argument before the FOIC, there is every reason to believe that he will raise it on appeal.
If Mr. Sedensky’s “child abuse” argument is successful, there is no logical reason why it should not apply to the contents of the Sandy Hook investigation report. But Mr. Sedensky does not need a determinative decision from a court concerning the merits of his argument to justify (in his mind) withholding the report; he only needs to say that he believes his legal argument has merit and that until the State Supreme Court tells him otherwise, he is going to treat the report as if it contains information relative to a child abuse investigation. Because the law exempts such information from disclosure, he won’t disclose the report.
I hope I’m wrong. The public has a legitimate right to know what happened at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. (I’m not talking about the disclosure of crime scene photographs. That is a separate issue currently being debated by a task force the General Assembly created at the end of the most recent legislative session.) I’m talking about a written document that explains what the police have learned as a result of their investigation into what actually happened and why it happened. That information is highly relevant to the success of efforts to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again.
When he was before the FOIC, Mr. Sedensky made a very novel legal argument to avoid disclosure of the Sandy Hook 911 tapes. The public is entitled to know whether he intends to make the same novel argument with respect to the highly anticipated investigative report.