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Rep. Gravley seeing bipartisan support for keeping some 911 audiotapes private
by Tom Spigolon
tspigolon@neighbornewspapers.com
March 06, 2013 11:46 AM | 1373 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
District 67 State Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, said he is seeing bipartisan support of his bill to halt public access to audio files of 911 calls on which a caller dies or is assaulted while on the phone.

“We’re talking about calls that are truly extreme where there’s audio of a high or aggravated nature which, really, doesn’t need to be aired,” said Gravley, whose district includes part of Douglas and Paulding counties.

“This is a respect of the privacy and decency for a victim who falls into these narrow categories,” he said.

The bill would limit access to 911 audiotapes on which a person is killed or is the victim or rape and aggravated battery, or is a minor. Access would only be given to family members or their attorney.

This is the first bill Gravley sponsored following his election in November to succeed longtime Douglas County state lawmaker Bill Hembree in the District 67 seat.

Gravley, , said any individual currently can file an open records request with a law enforcement agency and receive the audiotape of a 911 call — potentially leading to its posting on the Internet by an exploitative web site owner.

“How is that respect of an individual?” Gravley asked.

The written transcript of the call will still be public record, he said.

“I don’t see the argument that it’s an infringement of freedom of speech because you still have the information, you still have the transcripts,” he said.

He said the bill’s 24 co-sponsors include members from both parties, include longtime Democratic leaders Tyrone Brooks and Calvin Smyre. District 30 State Sen. Mike Dugan will carry the bill in the Senate, Gravley said.

Douglas County E-911 director Greg Whitaker, president of the Georgia 911 Directors Association, said the bill has the support of most 911 directors statewide.

He said he supported such legislation after hearing about open access to audiotapes of calls from victims who died while on 911 calls during 2009 floods in Douglas County.

“There was no protection of the victim or the family,” he said. “If it was my family, I would not want that played over the media.”

However, Georgia Press Association attorney David Hudson said he was hopeful Gravley would accept changes his group believes “are a proper balance between the public’s right to know and legitimate circumstances” when some recordings should be kept private.

Hudson said the press association is suggesting changes, including allowing a Superior Court judge to order public access to the audiotapes if the “benefits of public disclosure outweigh the interests of those persons opposing disclosure.”

He also said the association favors limiting non-disclosure to the portion that would cause “intentional infliction of emotional distress” to surviving family members, rape or assault victims or callers under 16. Georgia law defines a minor as below 18 years old.
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