Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Daily Item Seeks Tape from Talbot Case

Kudos to the Daily Item for exercising their right to information sketched out in Massachusetts' Public Records Law in suing Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley for withholding the crucial tape of the events that occurred behind Revere High's on September 29, 2007. These videotapes allegedly show some of the events (though I am not sure if it is all of the events) of what happened the night that Revere Police Officer Daniel Talbot was murdered.

Since the outset of this case I, along with many other people with blogs or just people commenting on news stories, have felt that something is being held from the public. Just for reference, I have also talked about this case here, and here. The story that the DA's office is spinning just does not add up. Four off-duty cops who felt their presence at area bars may stir up trouble are "socializing" behind a high school at 1 am, and one ends up shot with one officer running away and the other two unable to hit any of the assailants (despite having their weapons with them and being trained police officers). A canvas of the area turns up little but a disassembled, non-police issue handgun in a storm drain. The DA comes out less than 24 hours after the incident to say that Talbot was not killed by one of his fellow officers' guns, despite the fact that no one had thought about that before the DA said it. From the seemingly small amount of evidence, four people are arrested. A "homeless misfit" is charged with accessory before the fact (calling up someone to kill Talbot because the two got into a verbal altercation at the park), a girl and a guy are charged with accessory after the fact (breaking down the gun which I do not think has been reported as having prints on it), and one person has been charged as the principal shooter. All of this is laid out in the links to my other posts, I was just giving a brief overview to portray how confusing and illogical this all sounds.

Many of the questions I have asked about this case have gone unanswered. Why were these off-duty cops behind the school? Why have two of them been allowed back to work, but not one of them? Why did the police officers think their presence would cause alarm at local bars? Why did they not call on their fellow boys in blue when they got into a fight with Derek Lodie (the minor charged with accessory before the fact)? More importantly: what is going on?

This brings me to the Daily Item's pending legal action. Under Massachusetts' version of the Freedom of Information Act (which at the federal level does not apply to states, thus why MA has their own version), a public record is to be released to the public if it is requested in writing, which the Daily Item did. The DA's office refused to release the tape after receiving the December 6, 2007 letter, citing the ongoing investigation. The Item responded a week later, outlining the reasons that the DA's office was obligated to release the tape, to which the DA's office did not respond.

There is no doubt that the tape itself is public record. It is on public property (Revere High) and its installation and maintenance is paid for with public funds (i.e. taxpayer money). The office that is withholding it from the public is a public office and some of the subjects on the videotape were public officials. The only way that the DA's office could hold onto the tape is by exception 26f in Massachusetts Public Law Chapter 4 Section 7 (the state's version of the Freedom of Information Act) which states that public records should be disclosed unless they are "investigatory materials, necessarily compiled out of the public view by law enforcement or other investigatory officials, the disclosure of which materials would probably so prejudice the possibility of effective law enforcement that such disclosure would not be in the public interest."

Is the tape considered "investigatory materials"? Yes. The question is will it hinder the prosecution of the four defendants. Not in my eyes. There is little doubt that the tape will be shown at trial anyway and it seems that the investigation is not currently ongoing (no further arrests have been hinted at). Withholding the tapes is certainly not in the public interest, as many have asked why the details of the shooting are so sketchy. It would actually be in the DA's interest to release the tapes and silence the rumors right now. Everything about this case involves public monies, the public has a right to know what happened. Since the DA clearly cannot communicate what happened in a manner that leaves no doubt as to the events of that night, maybe the tape can. Peace.

Photos - Suffolk County DA Daniel Conley (news.bostonherald.com), Officer Daniel Talbot (www.whdh.com)

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