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Carroll County E911 v. Hasnie

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  1. Freedom of Information

Amicus Brief filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 16 media organizations

Court: Indiana Court of Appeals

Date Filed: Feb. 5, 2020

Update: On April 29, 2020, the Indiana Court of Appeals issued a decision reversing the trial court’s summary judgment requiring the disclosure of E911 records.

Background: In November 2016, a house fire killed four children in Flora, Indiana. Aishah Hasnie, a reporter for WXIN-TV, subsequently filed a request with Carroll County E911 under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act seeking 911 audio recordings related to the fatal incident. E911 denied Hasnie’s request, claiming that the recordings were exempt from disclosure because they were “investigatory records of a law enforcement agency.”

Hasnie then filed a complaint with the Office of the Public Access Counselor, which issued an advisory opinion that the records were not exempt from disclosure. Despite that opinion, however, E911 continued to withhold the records, prompting a suit in the Marion Superior Court to require E911 to disclose the recordings.

The trial court held that the records must be disclosed. E911 then appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Our Position: The Indiana Court of Appeals should affirm the trial court’s order requiring disclosure of the records.

  • Indiana APRA was intended to provide the public with broad disclosure of public records. E911’s interpretation of the investigatory records exemption is contrary to this mandate.
  • Access to 911 call recordings provides the public with valuable information about government operations and allows them to scrutinize how first responders perform in crisis situations.
  • E911’s interpretation of the investigatory records exemption poses the potential for abuse, allowing law enforcement to deny the public access to a 911 recording for up to 75 years by having it placed in a law enforcement investigatory file.

Quote: “E911’s refusal to disclose the recordings has deprived, and continues to deprive, the public of its right of access to information regarding the agency’s response to a fire that took the lives of four children. If there is any chance that the recordings may reveal miscommunications, delays, or other errors that could have impacted the response to the fire, the public has been denied the ability to respond to or remedy these deficiencies for three years.”

Related: In July 2013, the Reporters Committee, along with five media organizations, filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Maine Supreme Court arguing that calls to Maine’s 911 Emergency Communications Bureau should remain accessible to the public. In September of the same year, the court ruled that 911 transcripts are indeed public records subject to disclosure.