The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled 5-0 Tuesday morning that the state police must release documents belonging to the mother of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza. The ruling overturns a lower court ruling.
Many of the document in question belonged to Adam Lanza, including a spiral-bound book written by the shooter titled “The Big Book of Granny,” a photograph of the school’s class of 2002-2003, and a spreadsheet of rankings of mass murders, which also included the names, number of people killed and weapons used.
The Hartford Courant, which had sought to get the documents released, had requested to look at about 35 items seized, some of them deemed graphic, from Nancy Lanza’s house. The state police declined, citing privacy rights.
Adam Lanza killed his mother before going to the school and murdering 20 schoolchildren and six educators in December 2012.
The high court sided with the Freedom of Information Commission and the Hartford Courant in Commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection v. Freedom of Information Commission.
Justice Raheem Mullins, writing for the high court, said the “trial court’s conclusion that the search and seizure statutes form the basis for an exemption is inconsistent with our case law interpreting this exemption.”
Mullins continued: “Indeed we are not blind to the fact that limiting the disclosure of seized documents in order to protect the privacy of those whose property is seized, particularly if a criminal proceeding does not result, may be a good or even preferable way in which to deal with documents seized in this matter. The department [of Emergency Services and Public Protection], however, does not, and cannot, point to express language in the search and seizure statutes providing for such confidentiality.”
“This is significant because it will allow the Courant, and the public, to have access to the records,” said Fish, a partner with Hinckley, Allen & Snyder. “These records are very important to get a look of what was going on in the shooter’s head to cause such a horrific tragedy in Newtown. This ruling also clarifies the law in this area, in that if you will have exemptions from FOIA, they must be articulated in the statutes, and not implied.”
Fish added: “The ruling is also important because it makes clear that any exemption to FOIA disclosure requirements must be narrowly construed.”
There are legal timelines related to a possible motion to reconsider and remanding to the trial court, and it wasn’t clear Tuesday when the seized documents could be released, Fish said.
The commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection was represented by Assistant Attorney General Steven Barry and Solicitor General Jane Rosenberg. Jaclyn Severance, a spokeswoman for the Office of Connecticut Attorney General, said the office would have no comment on the ruling.
In addition to Fish, the Courant was also represented by Hinckley Allen associate Alexa Millinger. The FOIC was represented by Victor Perpetua, principal attorney for the commission.
Perpetua told the Connecticut Law Tribune Tuesday: “It’s nice to get a solid opinion. It reaffirms something that I was beginning to think might be in doubt, which is that records are public unless some statute says they are not. In this case, no statute said that.”