A Superior Court Judge has ruled that documents seized from the home of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza will remain sealed, meaning that the public and media will never get a chance to find out what they contain.
Judge Carl J. Schuman overturned a ruling by the state Freedom of Information Commission ordering the release of the records.
Schuman concluded that state statutes requiring the return of seized property supersede the state’s open-records law and shield such records from disclosure.
The Freedom of Information Act, he ruled, does not apply to “documents that were private property before seizure by the police and that a court would ordinarily order returned to the rightful owner by the end of a criminal case.”
The case involved dozens of documents seized by police from the home Lanza share with his mother, including handwritten notes, a spiral-bound book written by Lanza titled “The Big Book of Granny” that contained violent themes, and a spreadsheet maintained by Lanza detailing mass murders, including the name of the killer, the number of victims killed and injured, and the weapons used. The Courant requested the records from the state police, and filed a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission when the records were not produced.
“We are disappointed in the decision and are currently assessing our options,” said Andrew S. Julien, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Courant.
Schuman acknowledged that seized records might be disclosed to a criminal defendant or made public during a trial, but noted that those disclosures are mandated by constitutional requirements. When a criminal case is resolved without a trial, he wrote, records obtained through a search warrant should remain confidential.
Although Lanza killed himself the day of the shooting and no one else has raised a privacy concern or claimed an ownership interest in the records, Schuman said he was required to draft a ruling that would cover situations that don’t present the “unusual circumstances” of the Lanza case.
“Future cases will undoubtedly involve this sort of involuntary seizure of a victim’s diary or other personal notes, a person’s phone records, computer or email communications, bank records, medical records, business records, and other items,” Schuman wrote. “Exposure of these items to the public when the state has not seen a need to do so in the criminal case entails a significant invasion of the owner’s privacy and interference with his or her property rights.”
Schuman ruled that it would be “illogical” to suggest that the legislature, in enacting laws related to the return of seized property, intended property owners to have an absolute right to the return of nondocumentary property, such as clothing or money. “However, if that evidence takes documentary form, the owner loses that right and the public, in the [Freedom of Information Commission’s] view, will have a right to copy and read it under the act,” Schuman wrote. “There does not seem to be a logical reason for this distinction in the treatment of seized private property.”
Lanza killed his mother the morning of Dec. 14, 2012, then drove to the Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he killed 20 children and six educators before fatally shooting himself.
The attorney general’s office, which argued the appeal on behalf of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, declined comment on Schuman’s ruling. Officials with the Freedom of Information Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.