The FBI have ordered all law enforcement agencies connected to the Orlando shooting to withhold all information connected to the Pulse nightclub incident from the public and media.
A letter from the FBI tells police departments to alert them of any enquiries made by members of the pubic or press relating to the attacks.
The June 20 letter, attached to the City of Orlando’s lawsuit over withholding 911 calls, instructs authorities on how to deal with requests:
“Immediately notify the FBI of any requests your agency received” so “the FBI can seek to prevent disclosure through appropriate channels, as necessary.”
The Seminole County Sheriff’s Office sent the Sentinel the letter Tuesday night in response to a request for documents, video and audio recordings from the early morning hours of June 12.
A spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office said the FBI sent them the letter Monday night and “instructed us to forward it to anyone requesting records.”
The lawsuit, which was filed in Orange County Circuit Court, moved to federal court after the City of Orlando named the Department of Justice as a defendant in the case. An attorney for the city said the change was made because “the dispute is really between the FBI and the media.”
Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, said the “FBI doesn’t have the authority to hijack Florida’s constitution, which guarantees us a right of access to all non-exempt public records.”
She said these records are public record subject to the state’s law.
In the letter, the FBI says it is concerned releasing records would “adversely affect our ability to effectively investigate the shooting and bring the matter to resolution.” The agency also says the records could endanger witnesses and law enforcement officers involved in the case.
Paul Wysopal, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Tampa field office, signed the letter. He refused comment Wednesday.
Lawyers for the media outlets argue the records should be released because there is “a strong public interest in fully evaluating how first responders and police reacted during the most critical phases of this incredible tragedy,” the lawsuit states.
The city, in its filing, said it has not released all records “out of respect for the Pulse shooting victims and the families” and at the “direction of the FBI.”