Monday, August 8, 2011

Take away those cell phones. NOW!

 Be sure to read McHenry County Blog today, where Cal Skinner writes about his effort to get information about the Kurt Milliman shooting on May 28. Two days after this, Cal filed a FOIA request.

The Sheriff's Department denied his request, and Cal appealed to the Public Access Bureau. The FOIA officer at the Sheriff's Department responded to the Public Access Counselor on June 28 saying, in part, “We do not have any recordings of phone calls from the scene as cell phones were used.”

It was way back at the time of the Jerome and Carla Pavlin incident that I wrote about the improper use of cell phones for official calls. When a deputy can call another deputy or supervisor on a cell phone, that conversation is not recorded and cannot become part of the records of the public body; i.e., the Sheriff's Department. The hidden use of cell phones must stop!

It is essential that official communications be recorded and preserved! That's what police radios are for. Occasionally, someone will raise the issue that almost anyone can listen to police-band broadcasts. Well, the public need to preserve the conversation outweighs the possibility that someone might just be listening in at a given moment in time.

Another part of the Sheriff's Department reason for denial caught my eye. The Department wrote to the Public Access Counselor in that same June 28 letter, saying, "The 911 call/recordings concerning this homicide is a very important part of the evidence in this case.

“The release of the 911 recordings at this point would interfere with any pending charges and there is a strong likelihood that the information contained there could potentially affect the jury pool if released, thereby depriving the Defendants of a fair trial.”

With part of that, I'll agree. Since Timothy Smith lied to the dispatcher about the "home invasion", that part of the 911 call does become evidence in a criminal investigation and is reasonably exempted under FOIA.

However, saying that there is a likelihood that the information might affect the jury pool? Sorry, I don't buy that one. Look at what has already been published in the print media.

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