MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — Acknowledging that the community has a right to see and hear the same recorded evidence as people in the courtroom, a judge Thursday ordered Long Island prosecutors to give the media access to recordings — including 911 calls — once they are used as evidence in the trial of a parolee charged with killing a police officer and another man.
Nassau County Judge Jerald Carter ruled after The Associated Press, Newsday and News 12 Long Island asked for copies of radio transmissions, emergency dispatches and video from the trial of Queens parolee Darrell Fuller.
The decision initially appeared as a broader victory for journalists covering Nassau County courts, but Carter later said through a court spokesman that the decision only applied to Fuller's trial. He said prosecutors and lawyers for Fuller could still ask that certain pieces of evidence remain out of public view.
Without objections, the district attorney's office must turn over recorded evidence to the media at the end of each trial day, Carter said. In Nassau County, unlike in other jurisdictions, the district attorney's office maintains custody of trial evidence, not the court.
"Once they are played here, they become public property," argued Rachel Strom, a lawyer for the media outlets.
A spokesman for the district attorney's office said he welcomed the decision because it provided clarity on how they should respond to media requests for recorded evidence.
Carter said he came into a hearing on the matter Thursday morning having already made "informed decisions" about most of the audio and video recordings in the murder trial.
Prosecutors on Wednesday played a cellphone video that off-duty New York City police officer Robert Mancini recorded of the highway pursuit that culminated in the fatal shooting of Nassau County officer Arthur Lopez.
Prosecutors also played Mancini's subsequent 911 call in which he updated the dispatcher on his location for 20 minutes as he continued after the fleeing shooter down the Cross Island Parkway toward the Belmont Park racetrack and into a Queens neighborhood.
Carter said Thursday his concern centered on the 911 calls.
Assistant District Attorney Anthony Perri, in an apparent reversal of the office's earlier position, said in court the decision to release any of the recordings was at Carter's "sole discretion."
The difference, he said, was previous media requests were made directly to the district attorney's office — which he said is barred from disseminating evidence beyond the courtroom. This request, he said, came through the court.
Perri also relayed an objection from the family of the slain police officer, who said the repeated playing of 911 calls on television would level a significant emotional toll.
Strom, while sympathetic, said the 911 calls and other recordings had already been quoted in numerous news articles and television reports.
"If the family does not want to watch the publicity from this trial, they have the absolute right to turn the TV off," she argued.