Kennedy autopsy photos not subject to disclosure under FOIA
WASHINGTON, D.C.–Even though autopsy photographs and x-rays of President John F. Kennedy were taken and developed by the U.S. Navy, were used by the Secret Service in its investigation into Kennedy’s death, and are now held by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), they are “personal Presidential records” that were never subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. ruled in mid-November.
In denying the records to Rockville, Md., author Mark Katz, the appeals panel affirmed the results of a March 1994 decision of the federal District Court in Washington, D.C. The panel disagreed with Katz that the records were “agency records” when they were created.
The photographs came into NARA’s custody after Sen. Robert F. Kennedy asked the Secret Service to give them to a family representative in 1965. The agency complied, and the Kennedy family later donated the records by deed to NARA subject to strict constraints on access during the lifetime of the immediate Kennedy family, siblings and parents.
Katz began trying to see the records in 1992 but NARA refused to make them available to him, claiming that the terms of the Kennedy family’s gift prohibited release. He sued in April 1992, arguing that the autopsy records should always have been government records under laws governing maintenance and disposal of federal records.
The federal District Court had held that because, rightfully or wrongfully, the records had left government custody when they were turned over to the Kennedys, the FOI Act would no longer apply, even after the records were returned to government control. (Katz v. NARA; Author’s counsel: Lucinda Sikes, Washington, D.C.)