Saturday, April 19, 2014
PORTLAND - Six groups have joined a lawsuit by the Portland Press Herald that seeks the public release of transcripts from 911 calls made before the fatal shooting of two teenagers last year in Biddeford.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the New England First Amendment Center, the Maine Association of Broadcasters, the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition, the Maine Press Association and The Associated Press filed an amicus brief with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Friday to support the lawsuit.
The Press Herald wants the transcripts of 911 calls made in the case of James Pak, 75.
Pak is accused of killing Derrick Thompson, 19, and his girlfriend, Alivia Welch, 18, and wounding Thompson's mother on Dec. 29 at the apartment Pak rented to Thompson and his mother.
The apartment was attached to Pak's home, where police went in response to an argument the three had with Pak.
Thompson made a 911 call at 6:07 p.m. Police responded and determined that the dispute was a civil matter.
The officers left the home about 6:51 p.m. Within three minutes, Thompson's mother called 911, saying she had been shot twice.
The Maine Attorney General's Office refused the newspaper's request to release the 911 transcripts, saying they constitute "intelligence and investigative information."
A judge upheld the state's position when the Press Herald challenged the denial in court.
Superior Court Justice Roland Cole ruled on March 8 that there is a "reasonable possibility" that public disclosure of those calls would interfere with the case against Pak and could "hypothetically influence the input of potential witnesses."
The appeal challenges that decision on two points: whether 911 call transcripts, which are otherwise public record, can be made confidential when placed in a law enforcement file, and whether Cole had sufficient evidence to determine there is a "reasonable possibility" that releasing the transcripts would interfere with the case.
The newspaper's attorney, Sigmund Schutz, has said it's impossible for the public to know what Thompson said in his call to police without its release.
The amicus brief filed Friday by the six groups supports the newspaper's argument that the denial of the transcripts is contrary to Maine's Freedom of Access law and that the public has an interest in knowing what is in the transcripts.
A bill that would have specifically made 911 transcripts confidential died in the Legislature earlier this month.
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: