A June 20 letter from the FBI, attached to the City or Orlando's lawsuit over withholding 911 calls and other records from 25 media outlets including the Orlando Sentinel, was also sent to the Seminole County Sheriff's Office with instructions pertaining to how they should respond to records requests.
The letter requests that agencies deny inquiries and directs departments to “immediately notify the FBI of any requests your agency received” so “the FBI can seek to prevent disclosure through appropriate channels, as necessary.”
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.”
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 they are concerned releasing records would “adversely affect our ability to effectively investigate the shooting and bring the matter to resolution.” They also say the records could endanger witnesses and law enforcement officers involved in the case.
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.”
It is unfortunate that the FBI, once seen as an uncorruptable bastion of ethical and honest dealing with the public is now seen as just one more federal agency driven by politics and partisanship. There very well may be good reasons for the embargo of information to news media, but it is impossible to tell these days where good police practice ends and politics begins.