AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate voted Wednesday to reject a confidentiality bill filed in response to the Portland Press Herald’s public-records request for a 911 transcript relating to a double homicide last year in Biddeford.

Without a roll call vote, the Senate rejected L.D. 495, sponsored by Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, a retired state trooper. A legislative committee voted 10-3 against the bill in May. The bill now faces action in the House.

Burns’ bill, submitted on behalf of the Maine Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Maine State Police, would make information or records from 911 calls “that relate to a pending law enforcement investigation or a pending criminal prosecution” confidential. Disclosure would be a Class E misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum jail sentence of six months.

Maine is one of five states that put restrictions on the release of 911 recordings or information in the recordings, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Recordings, for example, are confidential. Transcripts are public. Another six states treat 911 recordings as fully confidential.

The state police and the Maine Office of the Attorney General are opposing the Press Herald in its public-access lawsuit related to the case of James Pak, 75, who is accused of killing Derrick Thompson, 19, and his girlfriend, Alivia Welch, 18, and wounding a third person in a shooting in Biddeford on Dec. 29. All three were tenants in an apartment attached to Pak’s home. Police were at the home shortly before the shootings because of an argument between Pak and his tenants. They determined it was a civil matter and left.

The Press Herald appealed Superior Court Justice Roland Cole’s decision in March to withhold 911 transcripts related to the case after the attorney general’s office rejected the newspaper’s request for them.

The office has jurisdiction over homicide prosecutions, so it can control the release of what it deems investigative material. In a response to the Press Herald’s request, Deputy Attorney General William Stokes wrote that the “requested material constitutes intelligence and investigative information,” so it shouldn’t be released.

The Press Herald’s lawsuit challenges the judge on two points: whether 911 call transcripts — public records — can be confidential if placed in a law enforcement file, and whether Cole had enough evidence to say that releasing transcripts could interfere with the Pak case.

At a public hearing in May, Burns’ bill was opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and Sigmund Schutz, the Press Herald’s attorney in the Biddeford case.

Christopher Parr, a state police attorney, and Elizabeth Ward Saxl, director of the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, testified in support. Parr said the bill is aimed at premature public disclosure of sensitive case material.

Schutz said the current process “sheds light on the performance of emergency responders and allows public oversight,” allowing the public to play “a watchdog role when it comes to our 911 system.”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652
[email protected]
Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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