According to a report Thursday by The Orlando Sentinel, the FBI is directing local law enforcement agencies to deny all public records requests in connection with the Islamist attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
That directive violates Florida law, and now a federal lawsuit has been filed.
According to the report, the FBI sent a letter to numerous local and state agencies on June 20, directing them to deny all requests and to immediately notify the federal law enforcement agency of such requests so it "can seek to prevent disclosure through appropriate channels, as necessary." The letter was part of the documentation in a lawsuit filed against the City of Orlando by 25 media outlets over its withholding 911 calls and other records.
The letter from Special Agent in Charge Paul Wysopal of the Tampa field office states, in part:
As you know, this is an active, on-going investigation being conducted by the FBI. The FBI considers information obtained from the state and local enforcement agencies in furtherance of its investigation to be evidence or potential evidence. Accordingly, the FBI is concerned that public disclosure of such records or information at this time will adversely affect our ability to effectively investigate the shooting and bring the matter to resolution; could endanger the safety of law enforcement officers, and other individuals who have participated in or are otherwise connected with the investigation; and risks unduly prejudicing any prosecutions that may result from the investigation.
Originally, the 25 media outlets had sued the City of Orlando in Orange County Circuit Court. The court had cleared its docket to hear the case, but then the city filed a motion to move the case to federal court, since the Department of Justice was involved. An attorney representing the media said it was a stalling tactic.
Barbara Petersen, president of the Florida First Amendment Foundation, also took exception with the manner in which the Obama Administration is trampling on freedom of the press. She said 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."
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