Orlando Shooting Records Face Court Hearing

     (CN) – A federal judge will hear arguments Thursday as several news organizations and the city of Orlando grapple over access to 911 calls and other police transmissions made during the June 12 shooting rampage at the gay nightclub Pulse.
     Two dozen news organizations, including the Associated Press, CNN and The New York Times, sued the city of Orlando on June 23 after officials refused numerous public records requests related to the most deadly mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
     The lawsuit, filed in Orange County Circuit Court, seeks copies of recordings of 28 minutes of conversations between gunman Omar Mateen and Orlando Police crisis negotiators.
     The media also wants access to 603 calls made to police and fire departments by other individuals between the initial shooting and Mateen’s death in a shootout with the authorities.
     During the siege Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 others;
     “There is a strong public interest in fully evaluating how first responders and police reacted during the most critical phases of this incredible tragedy,” the complaint says. “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.”
     The City of Orlando, which is the custodian of the recordings, said that the FBI requested it not release the recordings, and as a result, they are exempt under Florida’s public records law. It filed a countersuit in circuit court for guidance on how it should handle releasing those calls and other records.
     The U.S. Justice Department later moved the case to federal court arguing that because the recordings are part of its ongoing investigation of case, they are subject to Florida’s public records law.
     The news organizations object on the grounds that the Justice Department is not a proper party to the lawsuit.
     “This case is a dispute solely between the news media and the city,” they argue in court documents.
     U.S. District Judge Paul Byron, of the Orlando Federal Court, will hear arguments over the motion to send the dispute back to state court beginning at 1:30 p.m. According to the court calendar, the hearing is expected to continue until about 5 p.m.

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