January 8, 2013

State withholds 911 call transcript related to Biddeford shooting

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The state has rejected a request by the Portland Press Herald for transcripts of the 911 call that Derrick Thompson made to Biddeford police shortly before he and his girlfriend, Alivia Welch, were fatally shot and his mother was wounded.

click image to enlarge

A makeshift memorial stands across from 17 Sokokis Road in Biddeford, where Derrick Thompson and Alivia Welch were shot dead on Dec. 29.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Derrick Thompson, left, and Alivia Welch

Facebook photo

Maine State Police and the Attorney General's Office criminal division said that releasing the information would interfere with an ongoing investigation. The newspaper plans to take the issue to court in an effort to compel the state to turn over the documents.

"Two teenagers are dead and one of them had just reached out to police asking for help. What exactly did he say and why did the police believe this was a civil matter?" asked Cliff Schechtman, executive editor of the Press Herald. "The community has a fundamental right to know the circumstances surrounding this tragedy. Keeping the 911 tape secret doesn't protect the victims' privacy or help the investigation."

Family members held a funeral for Thompson, 19, on Monday in Saco. The funeral for Welch, 18, was held Saturday in Biddeford.

James Pak, who was their landlord, is being held without bail in the York County Jail on two counts of murder. Police say he admitted to the shootings.

Thompson called police at 6 p.m. on Dec. 29 to report that Pak was threatening him and banging on the door. Dispatcher notes say police responded and determined that it was a civil dispute -- not criminal -- and that the tenants did not feel threatened at any time.

Three minutes after the last officer left the two-unit building at 17 Sokokis Road, Pak shot Susan Johnson, 44, Thompson's mother, in the back, then killed Thompson and Welch, police said.

The newspaper has requested transcripts of the 911 call made by Thompson before the shootings and transcripts of other calls made about Pak that day, which would include the 911 call that Johnson made after the shootings. State police rejected the request, saying the information is exempt from the state's Freedom of Access law.

"This is part of an open, active criminal investigation in which a man has been charged with a double murder," said Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety. "Transcripts of a 911 call, in this case and in past homicides, have not been released."

Maine State Police counsel Christopher Parr wrote in his denial of the newspaper's request that the information is exempt from the right-to-know law because its release would interfere with law enforcement proceedings, would be an unwarranted invasion of privacy and would jeopardize the state's ability to impanel an impartial jury.

The newspaper's attorney, Sigmund Schutz, said the information can help the public evaluate what police knew, and when, before the shootings.

"At this point, the public doesn't know, aside from what the state has chosen to share, exactly what information (police) were provided," Schutz said. "Just the fact of secrecy creates suspicion and doubt where perhaps there should be none."

Schutz said a judge should review the transcripts to determine whether any of the information in them should be redacted, and the rest should be released.

"Under state law, 911 calls, at least transcripts of the calls, are a matter of public record except for the identity of the caller and any medical information about a person receiving medical services," Schutz said.

 

This story was updated at 6:15 p.m. January 8 to correct Christopher Parr's job title: he is a counsel for the Maine State Police.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:
dhench@pressherald.com

 

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)