The FBI is imploring law enforcement agencies who responded to the recent massacre at the Orlando Pulse nightclub not to release records to the public, a written message from the agency reportedly shows.
A letter from the FBI, dated June 20, instructs the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office on how to deal with records demands, reports the Orlando Sentinel.
It was reportedly attached to the City of Orlando’s lawsuit over whether the recordings of the 911 calls linked to the terrorist attack at the hands of jihadist Omar Mateen should be made available to 25 media organizations, including the Sentinel.
According to the Sentinel, the Federal Bureau of Investigation letter urges agencies to deny inquiries and instructs departments to “immediately notify the FBI of any requests your agency received” so “the FBI can seek to prevent disclosure through appropriate channels, as necessary.”
The letter is signed by Paul Wysopal, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Tampa field office, who refused to comment Wednesday, acknowledges the Sentinel.
In the correspondence, the FBI also said that it is concerned making the records public would “adversely affect our ability to effectively investigate the shooting and bring the matter to resolution,” adding that the records could put witnesses and law enforcement officials involved in the case at risk.
The Sentinel obtained the FBI letter from the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office in response to a request for documents, video, and audio recordings from the early morning hours of the bloody incident, deemed the deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S. since 9/11.
The FBI sent the letter to the sheriff’s department Monday night and “instructed us to forward it to anyone requesting records, an unnamed spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s office told the Orlando newspaper.
Orlando officials added the Department of Justice (DOJ) to the 911 recordings lawsuit as a defendant. DOJ officials have requested that the case be transferred to a federal court.
The change was made because “the dispute is really between the FBI and the media,” argued an attorney for the city.
Meanwhile, attorneys for the news media organizations indicated that they will fight to keep the case in state court.
The “FBI doesn’t have the authority to hijack Florida’s constitution, which guarantees us a right of access to all non-exempt public records,” opined Barbara Petersen, President of the First Amendment Foundation, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
As public record, the 911 recordings are subject to the Florida law, added Petersen.
The FBI is a component of DOJ.