Crime & Courts

Richmond Co. | Columbia Co. | Aiken Co. |

'Chronicle' to take legal action for tapes of 911 calls

  • Follow Crime & courts

The city of Augusta continues to deny a public records request for recordings of 911 calls despite advice to the contrary from the state Attorney General's Office.



The Augusta Chronicle requested several 911 recordings in July at the height of one of Augusta's bloodiest summers, when eight people were killed in seven incidents. The newspaper is preparing for legal action to resolve the issue.

Its request was denied initially by the Richmond County Sheriff's Office because the cases were "under investigation," then by District Attorney Ashley Wright because she considered them evidence.

Georgia law says materials connected with a pending investigation can be withheld, with the exception of the "initial police arrest reports and initial incident reports."

Attorney David Hudson, the legal counsel for the Georgia Press Association and The Chronicle , argues that 911 recordings are included in that exempted category.

In every other instance of cities and counties resisting requests for 911 tapes, "ultimately they followed the opinion of the attorney general and made them available," Hudson said.

After a request for mediation from Hudson, Assistant Attorney General Calandra Harps reminded the city that the only information that can be withheld is the identity, name and address of the person placing the call.

Even that redaction is only necessary when it's a confidential source or information that could endanger someone's life or physical safety.

"While I am not yet assuming the City has violated the Act, I would ask that you provide a response to the allegations to clarify and to provide further legal support for the City's position," Harps wrote.

Staff attorney Ken Bray reiterated Augusta's position in a responding letter, saying: "The Chronicle is seeking exactly the type of information that is prohibited from disclosure."

Bray continues to say that the information will not be provided until all direct litigation stemming from the calls "has become final or otherwise terminated."

The newspaper argues that 911 tapes are not part of the investigation. In building his case for the attorney general, Hudson noted that Augusta's 911 center is separate from the sheriff's office. Its director, Philip Wasson, is appointed by the city government.

Hudson also noted that the initial call to 911 for help is created by private citizens, not "of law enforcement, prosecution or regulatory agencies."

Also, the 911 call cannot be considered among the interview transcripts, evidence and notes gathered by investigators during their investigation.

"The 911 records precede any investigation," Hudson argues.

There are several precedents in favor of The Chronicle.

In October 2009, 911 tapes were released soon after a man shot and killed his two children in a double murder-suicide in Moultrie, Ga. The conversation between dispatch and a man discovering the mass murder of his family in a Georgia trailer park was released in 2009.

"Even when the Open Records Act was adjusted a few years ago, these public records (remained) open to the public. The legislature recognizes that access to these records and information is useful and beneficial to the community and enables the public to better monitor its government," Hollie Manheimer, the executive director for the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, said in an e-mail.

Alan English, the executive editor of The Chronicle , said that selectively withholding 911 tapes erodes public trust and creates suspicion.

He called it a "ridiculous abuse of power."

"It sets a horrible precedent," he added.

Don Bailey, the newspaper's president, said pushing for the release of the tapes is a public service.

"The Chronicle will push through roadblocks to public records for the community's sake," he said. "This remains a priority."

Newspaper seeks photo

The Augusta Chronicle also plans to pursue a federal lawsuit to obtain the mug shot of a man sentenced to nine years in prison for stealing $1.7 million from more than a dozen friends and relatives.

Federal officials have denied a current picture of Walter Marion Williams, who is serving time in a Montgomery, Ala., prison, because it "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

The newspaper contends that publishing Williams' photo could alert other victims who otherwise might be unaware of Williams' identity.

Comments (25) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 11/21/10 - 02:12 am
0
0
Congrats to the Chronicle for

Congrats to the Chronicle for continuing to be a watch dog and holding the government accountable.

It's a shame that Augusta continues to fight so vigorously to withhold records that are obviously open records.

What is the government hiding?

gijoe7898
0
Points
gijoe7898 11/21/10 - 03:35 am
0
0
I can see both sides of this.

I can see both sides of this. Chronicle, I think it may have helped if you'd say why you want the recordings. IMO, this comes across as a "we want them (recordings) because we can.

You infer RCSO/DA being vague about not wanting to release, yet you shroud your purpose for wanting them.

If you get these, don't you dare let the information jeopardize justice.

gijoe7898
0
Points
gijoe7898 11/21/10 - 03:35 am
0
0
I can see both sides of this.

I can see both sides of this. Chronicle, I think it may have helped if you'd say why you want the recordings. IMO, this comes across as a "we want them (recordings) because we can.

You infer RCSO/DA being vague about not wanting to release, yet you shroud your purpose for wanting them.

If you get these, don't you dare let the information jeopardize justice.

johnston.cliff
2
Points
johnston.cliff 11/21/10 - 04:42 am
0
0
The point is gijoe, that the

The point is gijoe, that the AC doesn't need to show why it wishes this information even though the newspaper business should make that self evident. On the other hand, the RCSO/DA does need to show reason why pre-investigation information is being held in secret. Insider Information asked the right question...what's being hidden?

justus4
97
Points
justus4 11/21/10 - 07:08 am
0
0
Hee, hee. This is a hoot. A
Unpublished

Hee, hee. This is a hoot. A so-called "horrible precedent" means absolutely nothing 'cause precedent don't mean nothing. What really matters is the ethnicity and social economical status of the individuals in question - Example: A minority guy was just given over 100 yrs for abusing his kids, but everyone knows how the parents with the over 10 kids living in an unbelievable pig sty of filth, mentally abused, starved, kept out of school, not to mention the possible PTSD in adulthood, was given the opportunity to serve their time ON THE WEEKEND! Yes, there are some specifics that differ, but severe abuse of children was evident in both cases, but what was different? Yep, U guessed it...and the parents with the most kids were given the least punishment. Why? Yep U guessed again, so "precedent" wasn't followed because individuals in decision-making positions worked to save U know who, but in the minority parents' case they worked to throw them away to rot in jail under the guise of "protecting children" or some other often heard lame phrase that means absolutely nothing. And what about the matter of "taking" a child from its parents or sending a parent away forever? Well, it only appears important & considered in cases dealing with non-minorities which has historical precedence from the legacy of government-sponsored bondage. In fact, any informed observer with a minimum comprehension of US History 101 can easily predict these legal matters without knowing the specific facts. How? Well, let's take this so-called "Open Records Act" law and the suit being filed to get the 911 calls. In theory, it sounds good to say, "We want that info to inform the public." Ha! Joke. But in practice, any person well-connected within the community (or otherwise, U know who) will NOT have their calls released, while the poor and minority will be the fodder for the local printing operation's so-called "reporting." However, expect a partial legal victory for releasing the 911 calls, but the legal mumbo jumbo will specify "in only certain situations" they can be released. And guess who the citizens will be in those cases? Yep, the poor & minority. And so, both sides will claim victory after the verdict, but expect to hear more 911 calls from victims of violence, which is actually the underlying motive. U heard it here first...

PitchFork007
473
Points
PitchFork007 11/21/10 - 07:17 am
0
0
Obviously the Richmond County

Obviously the Richmond County Sheriff's Office in conjunction with the Richmond County DA's Office has much to hide. Otherwise, they would have no objection to complying with the Open Records Act.

airbud7
1
Points
airbud7 11/21/10 - 09:19 am
0
0
justus4/ Who are you

justus4/ Who are you considering to be (the minority) in Augusta Ga?
White population 44.9 percent
Black/African American population 50.4 percent

Tisk tisk what is this world coming to
0
Points
0
0
Dang... Open records is a

Dang... Open records is a racial issue? Who da thunk... Yep... we economize here in the south. We got Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton all rolled up into one perons... Drum roll... Justus4!!!!! Ta da!!!

mary dits
2
Points
mary dits 11/21/10 - 10:14 am
0
0
get in there! i'm still

get in there! i'm still waiting for the 911 tapes from the cherry tree crossing shooting. are those ready yet?

mary dits
2
Points
mary dits 11/21/10 - 10:16 am
0
0
gijoe, public records belong

gijoe, public records belong to the public. the public doesn't need a reason to its records. the keeper of the records who is paid by and works for the public sometimes isn't able to release some records. that's when some explaining is necessary. believe in yourself, gijoe! it's about freedom.

mary dits
2
Points
mary dits 11/21/10 - 10:50 am
0
0
are the records of the

are the records of the sheriff's private individualized interviews with all the commissioners regarding david fry's alleged bribing of two of our commissioners available to the public yet? i can't wait to see the sheriff's style of interrogation. those interviews might call for dramatic re-enactments.

Quack Quack Quack
0
Points
Quack Quack Quack 11/21/10 - 11:07 am
0
0
Power to the People...Power

Power to the People...Power to the People Right On!!!!

Crabby Appleton
0
Points
Crabby Appleton 11/21/10 - 11:36 am
0
0
Leave it to whats his name to

Leave it to whats his name to put a racial spin on a race-neutral article. In some ways I'm glad the chronicle won't allow us to say what we really think about some of the postings here. It wouldn't be very pretty!! I haven't said it here..........but you can bet your sweet bippy I'm thinking it........and I really don't feel like watering it down to meet the Chronicle's "play nice" rules.

Crabby Appleton
0
Points
Crabby Appleton 11/21/10 - 11:44 am
0
0
I hope the Chronicle

I hope the Chronicle continues and is successful in getting Walter Williams mug shot. For the life of me I can't understand how the government could with hold a mug shot. You see them all the time in the news and on television. Who does Walter Williams know in the "higher ups" who's protecting him from having his picture published?
One local firm sells a weekly newspaper consisting mainly of mug shots of people not yet convicted of a crime, only arrested............if the Feds can keep CONVICTED FELONS mug shots private, then wouldn't the same logic apply to state and local? Seems like a lot is on the line here in the way of a presecedent....
I don't know Walter Williams but am very interested in seeing the face of someone who swindled some friends out of their life savings.

iLove
626
Points
iLove 11/21/10 - 11:56 am
0
0
AC only wats them so they can
Unpublished

AC only wats them so they can put a certain racial spin on them to keep things in Augusta brewing. . .

dougk
3
Points
dougk 11/21/10 - 11:57 am
0
0
A number of years ago, I went
Unpublished

A number of years ago, I went to the Columbia County Sheriff's office to obtain an arrest report, a public document. I was told that I could not have a copy. After explaining to THEM that it was a public record, I was interrogated for some time as to WHO I am and WHY I wanted it. Once I did receive a copy, it was censored...parts of it blacked out.

Riverman1
78408
Points
Riverman1 11/21/10 - 12:07 pm
0
0
Mary Dits, is this the

Mary Dits, is this the transcript of the interrogation Sheriff Strength did of the other Commissioners?

Strength: “Now you boys know I could have sent patrol cars out to your houses to pick you up for questioning.”

Commissioners: “Hahaha. Ronnie, how are we going to contribute to your campaign if we are in jail?”

One Particular Commissioner: “There ain’t going to be enough to go around if we don’t build this TEE thing.”

Strength: “Boys, you know I know who Fry works for. You know who his clients are as well as I do and they ain’t people in jail. I should lock you all up.”

Commissioners: “Ronnie, you know Mason and Johnson are just making up this whole thing. We won’t even need their votes if Matt Aitken is elected.”

Strength: “Yeah, but I bet y’all are not sure about that.”

Commissioners: “We didn’t want to say anything, but didn’t Tim tell the FBI that he secretly gave you $10,000 dollars for your last, uh, campaign?”

Strength: “Don’t be criticizing me for the way I do things. I gave $10,000 to charity later and the FBI left me alone. Y’all could have stuffed the fish fry box for Mason and Johnson. Now all of you get out of here before I change my mind.”

Commissioners knocking over chairs as they scramble to get out of the room.

mary dits
2
Points
mary dits 11/21/10 - 12:11 pm
0
0
you got the tapes! i never

you got the tapes! i never thought those would get out. i suppose since you obtained the holy grail, you get to play the sheriff, riverman. this is gonna be box office magic.

Riverman1
78408
Points
Riverman1 11/21/10 - 12:22 pm
0
0
As long as the movie starts

As long as the movie starts at the beach with you wearing your new beach outfit interviewing Deke with me being the lecherous passer-by extra. I'll switch over and play the sheriff later.

mary dits
2
Points
mary dits 11/21/10 - 12:34 pm
0
0
the beach is an awesome place

the beach is an awesome place to start the movie. find me on facebook so we can plan. before they try to shut us down!

Fed Up in Augusta
0
Points
Fed Up in Augusta 11/21/10 - 01:15 pm
0
0
That's just great! Augusta

That's just great! Augusta is millions of dollars in the hole, they are furloughing their employees, they spend half a million dollars on a study that they don't need and now they are going to have to fork out millions to defend their right to keep public records from the public. How in the world does Fred Russell keep his job? And exactly what is his job anyway? If you have a mayor that does his job, why is there a need for a city administrator? I have been all over the world with the military, but Augusta's government leaves me baffled. It seems like the ones in control aren't the ones who are elected, it's the ones who know where the bodies are buried.

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 11/21/10 - 06:58 pm
0
0
Who wants to bet that Deke

Who wants to bet that Deke avoids commenting on this because it remotely resembles controversy?
I'm giving 20-1 odds.

AutumnLeaves
5619
Points
AutumnLeaves 11/21/10 - 07:33 pm
0
0
Glad to see I'm not the only

Glad to see I'm not the only one who has had trouble picking up a police report. My brother gave me the case #, the date and time of the incident, the police officer's info, name, car #, etc., details of what happened and asked me to pick it up for him. I went to the records department and told them I needed my brother's case report and gave them all the pertinent information above. She went and pulled the report, talked to someone nearby, then came up and told me she couldn't give it to me. I asked why. She said because I said it was my brother's report. I said it was. She said it couldn't be because it said on the report that he was black, so he couldn't be my brother. Rather than argue with her, because our ethnicity was not a basis to refuse the report (we are not black unless maybe you go back to our ancestors at the beginning of the human race), I said that I was surprised that he would describe himself as black since he had sun-burned fair skin, medium brown wavy hair, hazel eyes and freckles and that we didn't normally tell people we were black (I didn't say, because we AREN'T!) because we don't LOOK black. She looked confused and made me a copy. Boy, was my brother upset when he found out that's the way he was described on the report. He said if something that simple was wrong, what else is? Considering the huge amount of reports these officers write up, I can understand mistakes do happen, but why in the world did that records clerk think she could withhold the copy from me, just because of the color of my skin. I even had I.D. showing the same family name.

DoggieMom
226
Points
DoggieMom 11/21/10 - 07:47 pm
0
0
These are two separate

These are two separate issues. Williams is now a convicted felon who swindled many of us. His photo could cause many more to come forward and report him. Even one insurance company he represented had no idea where their agent went. I had to tell them to look it up, and refund our money!

The 911 tapes should require approval by the person calling in, and if the caller is a minor, the tapes should not be released without the parents' permission.
I had a major health incident last year, and my child called 911, and got me the help I needed. Within a few days, we got a call (on our unlisted phone number) from "Inside Edition", and they were going to include my child's call in their fluff news story of some kind. Only because of my protests did they withhold the recording from being broadcast to the entire United States. I highly resent that my phone number was given out and my child's safety not considered in Columbia County releasing that tape without my permission.
Don't get me wrong....911 helped my child save my life, but that is my business, not for the news to use.

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 11/21/10 - 07:56 pm
0
0
Public records are public

Public records are public records. Period.
The government doesn't need a reason to give out public records.
The government doesn't need permission from its attorney to give out public record.
The government doesn't need permission from you or you because your name is in the records.
I could walk into the mayor's office tomorrow and ask to see the mayor's personnel file. I don't need a reason, and they don't need Deke's permission.
If you don't like it, change the law. Until then, the government should follow the law.

AugustaVoter
2
Points
AugustaVoter 11/21/10 - 11:18 pm
0
0
DoggieMom, thousands of

DoggieMom, thousands of people have scanners and access to recordings via public airwaves. Did you ever think they could have gotten your info that way?

DoggieMom
226
Points
DoggieMom 11/22/10 - 01:59 am
0
0
Actually, the EMS people

Actually, the EMS people called them and said it'd be a "good story". That in my opinion, is a breach of HIPPA laws, protecting our health care records.
And Inside Edition could just call Columbia County, and get the recording, while I as a citizen cannot. The fact that a minor was involved also changes the rules. They are supposed to be protected, and their info NOT given out.
I do appreciate that she saved my life, don't mistake that. Just the publicity was mortifiying to me. I'm a private person, and I would prefer to keep it that way.
IF a 911 call involves a crime, then that's a "Need to know" for the public to be aware. Private issues are not a "need to know" for anybody except me and my physician. I'm still pretty upset more than a year later. While some people crave attention, and want their "15 minutes of Fame", I do not!

Brad Owens
4096
Points
Brad Owens 11/22/10 - 04:28 am
0
0
I guess the problem is the

I guess the problem is the culture of public employees, they seem to feel that WE are here to support THEM, instead of the fact that WE pay them and they work for us.

That is the culture that must be beaten before you can stop folks from keeping public records from us, the public. The tax paying public.

Brad

Back to Top

Loading...