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'Noncriminal incident' 911 tape exempt from disclosure

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'Noncriminal incident' 911 tape exempt from disclosure 01/26/98 VIRGINIA--The audio tape of a 911 emergency call about a child who…

‘Noncriminal incident’ 911 tape exempt from disclosure

01/26/98

VIRGINIA–The audio tape of a 911 emergency call about a child who had stopped breathing is exempt from disclosure under the state Freedom of Information Act, the Supreme Court of Virginia in Richmond unanimously ruled in early January.

The high court found that the tape “falls squarely within the exemption” for “noncriminal incidents records” and denied several media organizations’ request for access to the recording.

The high court, affirming a lower court’s decision to deny access to the tape, also found that “the fact that [the sheriff] voluntarily provided a transcript of the specific 911 call does not waive his right to deny access to the actual tape” under the noncriminal incident report exemption.

Beginning in late November 1995, several reporters requested access to the tape of a 911 call after questions had arisen about the efficiency of the Surry County 911 System in responding to a call placed by the parent of a child who had stopped breathing.

The Surry County sheriff provided a transcript of the recorded conversations. However, he denied access to the audio tape on the grounds that the recording was not an official record and that it was exempt from disclosure as a noncriminal incident report.

Because of repeated requests for access to the audio tape, the sheriff asked the circuit court in Surry to declare that the recording is not available to the public under the state Freedom of Information Act. The media then filed several petitions requesting that the court order the tape released.

In early October 1996, the circuit court declared that the 911 tape was not available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act. The media organizations appealed to the state Supreme Court. (Tull v. Brown, Media Counsel: Stephen Noona, Newport News)