Something really stinks about the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
On February 5, 2013, I tried to order alleged mass murderer Adam Lanza’s death certificate from Vitalcheck, but got this message: “Sorry, this Death Certificate is unavailable.”
Now I know why.
John Voket reports for The Newtown Bee that Newtown’s town clerk Debbie Aurelia is refusing Freedom of Information requests from media and other sources seeking copies of all death records, including burial locations, of the alleged victims of the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, as well as the death records of alleged mass murderer Adam Lanza and his mother, Nancy Lanza.
The New York Post, the Connecticut Post, the Associated Press, the Hartford Courant, and other media have put forth requests for official death certificates of Sandy Hook victims.
Death certificates are part of vital public records, which also include birth and marriage certificates. They are public domain documents that serve as a mechanism for upholding the integrity of information in which there is a public interest, as it relates to voting, citizenship, and receiving public benefits. Abuses of voting processes involving voters who, unbeknownst to the public, are actually dead, are legendary. Death certificates typically contain little information about manner of death beyond categories such as “natural cause,” “homicide,” “accident,” “suicide,” or “other.” News organizations utilize such records in crime reporting as a standard part of normal, often tedious, fact-checking procedures. Death certificates also contain the sworn statement of the medical examiner.
What Aurelia is doing is contrary to the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act (CFOIA) as codified in Chapter 14 of Connecticut General Status. [Click here for the CFOIA.]
Section 1 (5) of CFOIA defines “public records or files” as “any recorded data or information relating to the conduct of the public’s business prepared, owned, used, received or retained by a public agency, or to which a public agency is entitled to receive a copy by law or contract under section 1-218, whether such data or information be handwritten, typed, tape-recorded, printed, photostated, photographed or recorded by any other method.”
Sec. 1-210 of the CFOIA specifies that “Except as otherwise provided by any federal law or state statute, all records maintained or kept on file by any public agency, whether or not such records are required by any law or by any rule or regulation, shall be public records and every person shall have the right to (1) inspect such records promptly during regular office or business hours, (2) copy such records in accordance with subsection (g) of section 1-212, or (3) receive a copy of such records in accordance with section 1-212. Any agency rule or regulation, or part thereof, that conflicts with the provisions of this subsection or diminishes or curtails in any way the rights granted by this subsection shall be void.”
More than refusing to comply with Freedom of Information requests for the death records of Sandy Hook victims, Aurelia is working with two Republican state legislators, Representatives Dan Carter and Mitch Bolinsky, and the leadership of the state association of town clerks to craft a bill that would provide the press and public with limited directory information from death and marriage records, but would withhold the actual death and marriage certificates from review except by legally entitled immediate family members or their representatives.
As reported by Christopher Keating of the Hartford Courant, Bolinsky’s one-paragraph bill, HB 5733 – An Act Concerning Access to a Child’s Death Certificate, states that the copy of the public record could be restricted “when the disclosure of the death certificate is likely to cause undue hardship for the family of the child.’’
But Jim Smith, a veteran journalist who serves as president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, said his group will fight against the bill in its continuing advocacy for open government. The certificate, he said, is a straightforward, factual document that lacks the details of an autopsy report: “There isn’t anything in a death certificate that is going to hurt the deceased. It’s not like an autopsy report. It’s been public for centuries. It’s not going to invade anyone’s privacy. We understand people, especially in Newtown, are aggrieved, but it shouldn’t lead to shutting off information in a democracy. There’s no real reason to do it. If a kid dies, we ought to know why. We shouldn’t be hiding why kids die.’’
HB 5733 is sponsored by Rep. Mitch Bolinsky and co-sponsored by Reps. Brenda L. Kupchick and DebraLee Hovey, and Sen. John McKinney — all Republicans. Two days ago, on Feb. 23, 2013, the bill was referred to Connecticut state legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health.