Pulse victims’ families can testify on 911 calls

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Relatives of the Pulse shooting victims, as well as the parents of the gunman, will be given the chance to speak at a hearing on whether all the 911 calls from the massacre can be made public.

A judge issued an order Oct. 11 setting a hearing when relatives of the 49 deceased victims can weigh-in on the impact of the release of calls made by their loved ones from inside the Pulse nightclub.

A notice of the Oct. 31 hearing also was sent to the parents of gunman Omar Mateen.

Mateen opened fire at the Pulse nightclub on June 12, claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group, in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. He was killed after a three-hour standoff during an exchange of fire with SWAT team members.

The city of Orlando and about two dozen media groups have been fighting for four months over the release of all the 911 calls, as well as four calls between Mateen and Orlando police.

The media groups have argued that the release of the records would help the public evaluate the police response to the massacre. The city has said the records were exempt from the state’s public records law, both because they were part of an investigation and because some were graphic calls of patrons being shot and killed.

Last month, the FBI, which is investigating the mass shooting, said that withholding the records is no longer necessary to its probe.

The city subsequently released a transcript of the calls between Mateen and police dispatchers and negotiators, as well as all but 232 calls that it claims are exempt under a Florida law that prohibits the release of a recording depicting a killing or the prelude or aftermath of one. The city has included in the exemption all calls that came into or were made from the nightclub during the massacre.

The media groups, including The Associated Press, said in a court filing this week that the city was applying “an overbroad and unconstitutional interpretation … to continue to withhold a large swath of records that simply do not qualify for exemption.”

The city, in its court filing, said the sound of gunfire and suffering are documented in many of the recordings, and that their release would be an invasion of privacy for the family members of the victims. The recordings are not necessary to evaluate the police response, the city filing said, and lawyers for the city wouldn’t be opposed to the media groups receiving a transcript of the recordings.

“Hearing the panic and fear in the voices of the victims would serve no public purpose,” the city’s filing said.

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