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MADISON - The Department of Justice publicly released 13 emergency 911 audio tapes in its possession to the media this afternoon that relate to the tragedy that occurred early in the morning of Sunday, October 7 in Crandon, Wisconsin and the hours following that incident.
Early that morning, Tyler Peterson fatally shot 6 and wounded another in a Crandon apartment. After leaving the apartment, Peterson shot at Crandon Police Department Officer Greg Carter, who was injured by glass blown out of his cruiser's driver's side windshield by Peterson's gunfire. Peterson later died from a gunshot wound consistent with a self-inflicted wound on Sunday shortly after 12:30 p.m. near the Town of Argonne in Forest County.
In releasing the tapes, Department of Justice Public Records Custodian Dean F. Stensberg issued the following statement:
STATEMENT OF DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE RECORDS CUSTODIAN DEAN F. STENSBERG REGARDING RELEASE OF EMERGENCY 911 TAPES:
The Department of Justice and other law enforcement agencies have received numerous requests for release of tapes of emergency 911 calls relating to the shooting deaths that occurred early in the morning of Sunday, October 7 in Crandon, Wisconsin and in the hours following that incident.
The Department of Justice continues to lead the ongoing investigation into this matter. It has requested of area 911 dispatches copies of all emergency 911 calls made on Sunday, October 7 that relate to the shootings and the hours following that incident. In the course of its investigation, the Department received emergency 911 tapes from Forest County and Langlade County.
The Department of Justice is now releasing 13 emergency 911 calls. It is withholding from public disclosure certain calls that relate to an ongoing criminal investigation, having determined the disclosure of those certain calls may impede that investigation, and that the public interest in the integrity of that investigation warrants non-disclosure. Linzmeyer v. Forcey, 2002 WI 84, 18, 26, 254 Wis. 2d 306.
Those emergency 911 calls that the Department of Justice has determined the release of would not jeopardize the integrity or the completion of an ongoing investigation are being released, with one exception. With regard to one call, the "Victim's Family Call," other public interests recognized by law outweigh the public interest in disclosure.
The Victim's Family Call was made by the father of one of the Crandon murder victims. The Victim's Family Call was made contemporaneous with the father's discovery of his child and the realization that the child and others were dead. In addition, sounds of the human suffering can be heard on the audio.
The Wisconsin Constitution, Art. I, 9m, contains a strong statement of public policy expressly recognizing that, in this state, crime victims should be treated with "fairness, dignity and respect for their privacy." Id. The Wisconsin statutes recognize that this state constitutional right must be honored vigorously by law enforcement agencies and prosecutors. The statutes further recognize that crime victims include both persons against whom crimes have been committed and a deceased victim's family members. Wis. Stat. 950.01, 950.02(4)(a). The Wisconsin Supreme Court, speaking of both Art. I, 9, and the related statutes protecting the rights of crime victims, has pointedly expressed its belief that "justice requires that all who are engaged in the prosecution of crimes make every effort to minimize further suffering by crime victims." Schilling v. Crime Victims Rights Board, 2005 WI 17, 26, 278 Wis. 2d 216, 692 N.W.2d 623. Release of the Victim's Family Call would impair the caller and wounded person's crime victim privacy interest, and the Department believes it would cause further suffering for those persons and others involved.
Moreover, the federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court, have repeatedly recognized that family members of a deceased person have personal rights of privacyin addition to those of the deceasedunder both traditional common law and federal statutory law. "Family members have a personal stake in honoring and mourning their dead and objecting to unwarranted exploitation that, by intruding upon their own grief, tends to degrade the rites and respect they seek to accord to the deceased person who was once their own." National Archives and Records Administration v. Favish, 124 S. Ct. 1570, 1578 (2004). These family rights of privacy have been recognized in the context of withholding from public distribution graphic images of the deceased, and in the context of audiotapes as well. Id. (autopsy photos); New York Times Co. v. National Aeronautics and Space Admin., 782 F.Supp. 628 (D.D.C. 1991)(audiotapes of Space Shuttle Challenger astronauts' last words). Release of the Victim's Family Call would jeopardize these interests as well.
The public interest in crime victims' and the deceaseds' family and personal privacy is as or more significant with regard to the Victim's Family Call as the interests in those federal and state cases. The Department has concluded that the public interest in protecting the personal and family privacy of the Crandon victims outweighs the public interest in disclosure of this single taped telephone call.
This public release is not intended to be a full or partial response to any public records request that may have been received by any persons or agency concerning to the emergency 911 tapes relating the Crandon homicides and the hours following on Sunday, October 7. The Department of Justice intends to individually respond to formal public records requests made to the agency as soon as practicable, and without delay. Individual responses, however, will take more time to process than this public disclosure, and the Department recognizes that there is a great and immediate public demand for these records, necessitating this broad distribution.
Finally, the category of documents subject to this release is limited to emergency 911 calls only.