Ohio High Court Says 911 Tapes, as Public Record, Can Be Copied

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(AP) A public agency must allow the tape of a 911 call to be copied, not just reviewed or provided as a written transcript, the Ohio Supreme Court said Thursday in granting a newspaper’s request for immediate release of a tape in a murder case.

The Columbus Dispatch had asked for the tape of a 911 call made last month by neighbors who found the bodies of Diana Cooper, 27, and her 5-year-old son, Cameron Bateman, in their home in Iberia.

Morrow County Prosecutor Charles Howland let a reporter listen to the tape five times and offered to have a court reporter make a transcript, but wouldn’t allow the recording to be copied. Howland said Thursday he gave the newspaper the tape about two weeks ago, after the complaint was filed.

The court ruled in an earlier case that 911 tapes are public records. The justices ruled unanimously for the newspaper Thursday because state law says a public record must be released in the format in which an agency stores it.

Howland said he objected because The Dispatch Printing Co. also owns radio and television stations.

“I just wanted the Bateman family to be able to bury their children without listening to the screams of their neighbors upon discovering the bodies,” Howland said.

The newspaper’s broadcast partners, WBNS-TV and the cable station Ohio News Network, didn’t air the tape. The stations’ news directors said it was too disturbing and didn’t advance the story.

“The issue here was principle, as far as access,” said John Cardenas, WBNS news director.

Dispatch editor Benjamin Marrison said it was irrelevant whether the tape was intended for broadcast, because the law says records must be shared in their original format.

“Once you start making exceptions, the law is weakened,” he said.

The company earlier won a ruling in Morrow County Juvenile Court that hearings must be open in the case against Samuel Staats, 17, who is charged with the slayings. Staats’ attorney had dropped his request for closed hearings.

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