|NMU||D.C. CIRCUIT||Freedom of Information||Oct 29, 1999|
Autopsy photos of Vince Foster will not be released
- Photos held by the National Park Service of the scene of Vince Foster’s death, along with autopsy photos, are protected from disclosure due to privacy considerations.
A federal appeals court for the District of Columbia (D.C. Cir.) in late October refused to order release of the death scene and autopsy photos of late Deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster, agreeing with a lower court that the photos, held by the National Park Service, are protected by the privacy exemption to the Freedom of Information Act.
Foster’s death in 1993 was ruled a suicide after an investigation by the Office of Independent Counsel. Conflicting reports about Foster’s gunshot wounds exist in the record, but the court said these may be matters of characterization. It noted that all inquiries into Foster’s death concluded that he committed suicide.
The unanimous three-judge panel said the exemption protects Foster’s family from having the photos disclosed. It rejected arguments of Accuracy in Media (AIM), a public interest group, that the public’s interest in clearing up disparities in reports of Foster’s death outweighs those privacy concerns.
Judge Stephen Williams said for the public interest to prevail over privacy concerns, AIM would have to show compelling evidence that the government was involved in illegal activity, and that access to the photos is necessary to confirm or refute that evidence.
The panel also rejected AIM’s request that it examine the photos in chambers before reaching its decision. The court said it was certain any such pictures would be “disturbingly” graphic, and that there was no evidence of agency bad faith in its reports of Foster’s death.
In his discussion of harm to privacy, Williams said the “feeding frenzy of media coverage” constitutes the private harm the Foster family would suffer from disclosure.
The court record included affidavits from Foster’s sister that disclosure would deepen the grief of Foster’s wife and children.
(Accuracy in Media, Inc. v. National Park Service; AIM attorney: Larry Klayman, Washington, D.C.)
© 1999 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press