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Tuesday, April 23
The Indiana Daily Student

Press loses bid for release of 911 tape in Centerville sisters’ deaths

State public access counselor upholds decision

INDIANAPOLIS – The state’s public access counselor has found no violation by Wayne County officials in refusing to release a 911 tape in their investigation of the deaths of two Centerville sisters last month.\nThe bodies of Erin Stanley, 19, and Kelly Stanley, 18, were found six days apart in the home they shared with their parents just west of Richmond, Ind.\nErin Stanley’s boyfriend, James McFarland Jr., 23, was charged Wednesday with murder in her death, but authorities would not say whether he might also be linked to the death of her younger sister.\nThe Palladium-Item of Richmond sought the release of a 911 tape recorded on Sept. 1, the day Erin Stanley’s body was found, but Public Access Counselor Heather Neal said Friday that Prosecutor Mike Shipman was justified in refusing the newspaper’s request.\nThe prosecutor’s office “is a law enforcement agency under the APRA (Access to Public Records Act) and as such has the discretion to withhold from disclosure investigatory records compiled in the course of the investigation of a crime,” Neal said in a letter to Palladium-Item reporter Bill Engle, who has written stories on the case and made the request for disclosure of the tape.\nEngle said he was “puzzled” by the access counselor’s finding.\n“I’m puzzled by the power that it gives the prosecutor or another official from a police agency to ... pretty randomly decide what is part of an investigation and what is not,” he said.\nThe Palladium-Item argued that the 911 tape was not created as part of the investigation.\n“We’re saying it is part of the daily activity of the 911 center, the dispatch center, therefore it’s just a public document,” Engle said.\nHowever, Neal said records gathered in the course of a criminal investigation may be withheld from disclosure under an exception to the federal Freedom of Information Act.\n“The legislature has put in place this exception to allow law enforcement agencies to conduct their investigations without disclosing all of their investigatory tools,” she wrote.\nThe prosecutor’s assertion that the 911 tape was part of the materials compiled in the investigation sustains the burden of proof required under Indiana law, Neal said.

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