June 13, 2013

Records confidentiality bill rejected by House

BY MICHAEL SHEPHERD

AUGUSTA -- A bill to expand the confidentiality of records from 911 emergency calls was killed Thursday as the House rejected it without a roll-call vote, following the lead of the Senate, which rejected the bill Wednesday.

L.D. 495, sponsored by Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, a retired state trooper, would have made transcripts of 911 calls "that relate to a pending law enforcement investigation or a pending criminal prosecution" confidential. Disclosure would have been a crime.

Under present law, audio recordings of such calls are confidential but written transcripts are not.

Burns' bill was submitted on behalf of the Maine Department of Public Safety, in response to a pending lawsuit by the Portland Press Herald. The newspaper is seeking access to a 911 transcript in the case of James Pak, 75, of Biddeford.

Pak is accused of killing Derrick Thompson, 19, and his girlfriend, Alivia Welch, 18, and wounding Thompson's mother in a shooting in Biddeford on Dec. 29. All three were tenants in an apartment attached to Pak's home. Police were at the home shortly before the shootings because of an argument between Pak and his tenants. The officers determined that it was a civil matter and left.

The Press Herald appealed Superior Court Justice Roland Cole's decision in March to withhold 911 transcripts related to the case after the Attorney General's Office rejected the newspaper's request for them.

In a response to the Press Herald's request, Deputy Attorney General William Stokes wrote that the "requested material constitutes intelligence and investigative information," so it shouldn't be released.

The Press Herald's lawsuit challenges the judge on two points: whether 911 call transcripts can be confidential if placed in a law enforcement file, and whether Cole had enough evidence to say that releasing transcripts could interfere with the Pak case.

Michael Shepherd -- 370-7652

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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