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Vote to permit review of crime-scene photos, video

Updated 11:33 pm, Monday, March 24, 2014
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HARTFORD -- A key legislative committee on Monday gutted a controversial proposal to make secret 911 reports and audio recordings of cops responding to criminal incidents such as the Newtown school shooting.

In a partisan vote, majority Democrats on the Government Administration & Elections Committee pushed through a bill that would allow limited review of homicide crime-scene photos and video; and require authorities to notify families when people ask to view photographic evidence.

The bill next heads to the Senate and possibly the Judiciary Committee, which has a similar bill of its own.

Sen. Anthony Musto, D-Trumbull, co-chairman of the committee, called it a compromise on the final day of the panel's work for this legislative session.

Recent recommendations from a committee that studied victims' privacy and the public's right to know also wanted to limit access to first-responder and 911 recordings, as well as photographic evidence.

The task force's work was promoted by legislation last June, in response to the Sandy Hook School massacre, when lawmakers voted to suppress crime-scene photos and first-responder audio until at least May 7 of this year.

The measure came at the request of families who lost loved ones in the shootings that took the lives of 20 first- graders and six adult staff in Newtown.

A state court battle ensued over the suppression of 911 recordings to Newtown Police on Dec. 14, 2012, but a state judge eventually ruled that they are public documents.

Sen. Michael A. McLachlan, R-Danbury, ranking member of the committee, led opposition to the rewritten bill. He was also concerned about provisions that would require surviving family members to be contacted every time a member of the public requested to look at crime-scene evidence.

Sen. Anthony Musto, D-Trumbull, co-chairman of the committee, said he has similar concerns. "It was the recommendation of the task force," he said. "I don't think it's something we're wedded to, here on the committee."

Musto defended the major changes of the bill.

"We adopted the prohibitions on releasing images of the homicides," Musto said during a brief debate on the bill. "The task force recommended the same for 911 tapes, and that was not adopted in this bill."

The task force, made up of state lawyers, journalists, law professors and others, was sharply divided over what information should and should not be public information before it recently finished its work.

kdixon@ctpost.com; 860-549-4670; twitter.com/KenDixonCT; facebook.com/kendixonct.hearst; blog.ct news.com/dixon