Release the 9-1-1 Tapes

By: Roger Sheppard
By: Roger Sheppard

Prosecutor's reasons for withholding information from the public are flawed

Another school year. Another rash of bomb threats in Wood County.

Kudos to the law enforcement and school officials who have been able to nab the juvenile delinquents who are responsible for all of the hassles this week.

And no kudos at all to Wood County prosecutor, Ginny Conley, who must be living in a time warp.

Despite our efforts in the past week and last Spring, Ms. Conley has steadfastly refused to give WTAP or other media access to the 9-1-1 recordings of these phoned-in bomb threats. We wanted to put the audio on the air, not to grandstand, but truly in an effort to see if people could help identify voices and bring an end to this nonsense more quickly.

As far as we've been able to determine, not ALL of the people involved in last Spring's bomb threats have been captured.

This week, it appears as if new technology has been able to nab suspects in a much quicker fashion. I hope that all the twerps out there who somehow think this is a good use of their time, will remember that. And I hope that the schools will do as Superintendent Bill Niday vowed on WTAP at Five this week to do: prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.

But that does not address the situation with Prosecutor Conley, who told WTAP News this week that the reason she does not like to release 9-1-1 recordings is because of what she called the "rule of ethics," whatever that mish-mash of words might mean. She says such a release could contaminate a possible jury pool who would hear the recordings and hold them against a defendant when the case came to court.

Baldersdash.

First of all, most if not all of the people that have been caught in these threats in the past year have been juveniles. They are NEVER going to have a trial with a jury. So that's a false statement.

Second, if you were to take Ms. Conley's remarks literally, the news media would never be allowed to release the name of any defendant, juvenile or adult, in any crime, no matter how serious. We'd never be able to show his or her face. We'd never be allowed to give any details about the alleged crime. And perhaps, we'd never even hear about the verdict since, afterall, verdicts can be appealed and defendants can get new trials, in front of new juries, at which time they might be found not guilty.

The curiosity is: Why does Wood County's prosecutor balk at sharing the public records -- which is what the 9-1-1 tapes are -- with the public, by way of the media? Is she concerned that if she does it once, the 9-1-1 center will be asked to turn over tapes on a weekly or daily basis? That's doubtful.

The folks at the 9-1-1 center do a great job and try to be as helpful as possible. But let's say, by chance, a 9-1-1 operator was not doing a good job or handled an emergency call badly, resulting in a death. We can only assume that a recording of that call would not be released either. The public would never know what happened even though it's the public's money that is funding the 9-1-1 center.

And the other curiosity is: Why is it that Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks seeks the news media's help in capturing criminals by releasing 9-1-1 tapes when necessary, while the Prosecutor in the area's most populous county, does not?

Anyone who watches TV these days knows that the release of 9-1-1 tapes is a common practice all across the U.S. Is Wood County so special, or its prosecutor so singularly enlightened, that tactics and procedures that are almost universal don't apply here?

It's just another blatant example how those with the power to dispense or withhold information, will more often than not, choose to withhold it.

Stay tuned. We won't give up this fight.

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