Arizona 911 tapes don’t have to be released

Tuesday, October 1, 2002

MESA, Ariz. — The Arizona Supreme Court has let stand an appeals court ruling that police can release only transcripts, and not tapes, from 911 calls to satisfy the public-records law if they have privacy concerns.

Television station KTVK sued Mesa police to obtain an audio tape of a call made by a woman suspected of child abuse, but police would release only a transcript.

Police said releasing the tape would harm the defendant’s right to a fair trial and would violate the victim’s privacy.

The station’s attorney argued the contents of the tape were public record. In addition, the police department could not prove the tape would harm the victim or suspect, attorney Dan Barr wrote in court documents.

Barr also argued the information on the tape already had been made public in a transcript and that numerous other police departments release 911 tapes.

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled in March that Mesa police were required to turn over the tape as a public record. The state Court of Appeals reversed that decision later that month, ruling in the city’s favor, a decision that stands as a result of the Arizona Supreme Court’s refusal last week to review the Court of Appeals decision.

The case involved a Feb. 29, 2000, phone call to Mesa police by Nancy Medina Walsh, who told authorities a baby she was watching fell out of a crib. Police arrested her on suspicion of child abuse.

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