Eleven days after the Orlando massacre, the public still did not have full access to transcripts of the 911 calls made by the shooter and his victims. On Thursday, a coalition of 25 media companies, including the parent company of the Miami Herald, filed suit against the city of Orlando for its refusal to release the calls from that night.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Orange County, challenges the city’s contention that those calls are exempt from public records laws because they record the killing of a person. The media consortium argues that the Orlando shooting is similar to the infamous Sandy Hook school shooting, in which a Connecticut court ruled that related 911 calls were not confidential despite state laws that restricted the release of child abuse records.
The lawsuit also asserts a key discrepancy in the city’s argument: “The federal government has stated that there were no reports of gunfire during the three-hour standoff. Thus no recordings created during that time could have captured any killings.”
“One important step in truly understanding what happened that night is contained in these and other records that haven’t been released,” said Aminda Marqués Gonzalez, executive editor of the Miami Herald, whose parent McClatchy joined the suit. “Under Florida law, the public has a right to know. That’s what we are asking for — compliance with state law.”
The lawsuit seeks a court order compelling Orlando to release not only Mateen’s four separate calls to 911 and crisis negotiators that night, but also all 603 calls made to police and fire authorities during the three-hour attack, the majority of which are assumed to be from people inside the club or their loved ones.
On Thursday afternoon, Orlando filed a counterclaim against one of the members of the media consortium — The Associated Press. It argues that the calls should not be released because they are part of an ongoing criminal investigation and because the “killing of a person” restriction does indeed apply.
Cassandra Lafser, press secretary for the office of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, said that he had been consulting with the FBI and legal counsel the past few days to determine what could be released.
The media lawsuit comes three days after the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation bowed to pressure from both congressional leaders and media outlets to release the full, unredacted version of one of the four Mateen calls.
Federal officials had originally released a transcript scrubbed clean of Mateen’s declaration of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State (IS). When that decision to redact was attacked, the agencies relented Monday afternoon and released the full version, explaining in a joint statement that the initial edits were meant to be “sensitive to the interests of the surviving victims” and to avoid giving terrorist organizations a “publicity platform.”
The White House has maintained it was not involved in the redaction decisions.
This story has been updated to reflect that the number of media organizations in the lawsuit is 25 and to include the counter-claim.