Records ban proposed after release of gunman’s writings
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut prosecutors have launched an effort to ban the public release of documents such as the writings of the Sandy Hook Elementary School gunman, in response to a state Supreme Court ruling that ordered the disclosure of the shooter’s belongings and ended a five-year legal battle.
Under the court’s order, state police in December released to The Hartford Courant hundreds of pages of documents that shed light on Adam Lanza’s anger and obsession with mass murder. The 20-year-old Lanza killed 20 first-graders, six educators and himself at the Newtown school on Dec. 14, 2012, after having killed his mother at their home in the same town.
Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane’s office has proposed a bill that would exempt from state freedom of information laws property seized by search warrants without an arrest being made, except if the property is filed or introduced as evidence in court. The legislature’s Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposal Wednesday.
“There is a lot of personal private property seized by search warrant that belongs to private individuals containing private information,” Kane told The Associated Press. “To make it public information ... really is an intrusion on people’s privacy. It goes far beyond what the constitution contemplated.”
Mental health experts, researchers and public records advocates argued the release of Lanza’s writings was very much in the public interest, because the documents offered insights into the mind of a mass killer and possibly could be used to prevent future mass shootings.
Democratic Bridgeport state Rep. Steven Stafstrom, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday that he was reserving judgment on the bill until after the public hearing, but said it presents important public policy issues.
“You’re balancing the public rights to information and open government with the state’s ability to conduct an investigation into a crime,” he said. “And you’re also potentially balancing a victim’s right to protect information from public disclosure.”
State police fought the Courant’s request for the documents that were seized from Lanza’s home after the shooting. The state Freedom of Information Commission ordered the release of the documents, but a state judge overruled the commission.
The newspaper appealed to the state Supreme Court, which in October ordered state police to release Lanza’s belongings. Justices unanimously ruled there was nothing in the state’s search and seizure laws that makes such documents confidential.
Lanza’s belongings included a book describing violence against children, a spreadsheet listing mass killings dating back to 1786 and writings expressing his scorn for other people.
Connecticut’s child advocate said Lanza’s severe and deteriorating mental health problems, his preoccupation with violence and access to his mother’s weapons “proved a recipe for mass murder.”