Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Sandy Hook Data Dump

After maintaining a four month quarantine on information concerning the Sandy Hook Elementary School slaughter, Danbury State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky dumped some arrest warrant information into Connecticut’s highly speculative media stream. The closely guarded information, released only days before Connecticut’s General Assembly  was poised to write bills restricting gun ownership, begs the question: Why now?

When criticized by a few Connecticut reporters and commentators for having withheld information inadvertently released by state police Col. Danny Stebbins during a New Orleans Chiefs of Police conference, investigators suddenly and inexplicably abandoned their often iterated threadbare rational: that releasing information in the arrest warrants would compromise “an active investigation.” They let part of the cat, its nose only, out of the bag.

Apparently the released arrest warrant data was harmless enough to allow Mr. Sedensky to release the data about three months before the criminal investigation will be completed sometime in June.

Journalists, the intended recipients of carefully screened data, do not often enough rely on their best reportorial instincts, which ought to signal to them that artfully edited data is often a craven attempt to slice and dice information for political purposes. If any of the tribunes of the people in Connecticut had asked Governor Dannel Malloy or legislators who need accurate data to write effective laws restricting gun ownership why the data dump -- released months before a criminal investigation is due to be completed but only days before legislators are due to present their final bills -- will not compromise a yet incomplete investigation, the answer to the question is blowing in the wind.

Mr. Sedensky in his media release insisted that “an ongoing and active criminal investigation” to be effective requires the imprisoning of information that may be necessary in an official “ongoing investigation.” The rules of “Professional Responsibility as they apply to prosecutors require that I take steps to not make extra judicial statements that I know or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication and will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter… the release of any information could potentially jeopardize a future prosecution if evidence were developed to support one. It is not unusual to develop a viable prosecution late in an investigation when one was not contemplated earlier.”

A wide-awake reporter at the Journal Inquirer asked the governor’s Chief of Staff Mark Ojakian, and through him Governor Dannel Malloy, whether Mr. Stebbens would be penalized in any way for having been responsible for the information leak in New Orleans that found its way into a piece written by  Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News.

Surely the leak of such carefully quarantined information had a “substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding,” the fig leaf so often cited by investigators who wished to keep data from legislators contemplating bills restricting Second Amendment rights.

Mr. Ojakian’s response was a barely suppressed yawn: “Those conferences take place for law enforcement officials to share information with each other — confidentially, in private — that might help their investigations. We were satisfied with his [Mr. Stebbins’] explanation."

In a piece written for The Connecticut Law Tribune, criminal defense lawyer Norm Pattis, whose specialty lies in torching prosecutorial pretentions, doubted that further charges are pending and ventured to hope that “someone challenges whether the privileges the state claims justifies this cloak and dagger editing are justified.”

Responding to Mr. Sedensky’s new fig leaf that redacted portions of the released affidavits “would identify persons cooperating with the investigation, thus possibly jeopardizing their personal safety and well-being," Mr. Pattis noted, chortling gently behind his hand, “Somehow, I doubt there will be further charges. I hope someone challenges whether the privileges the state claims justifies this cloak and dagger editing are justified… That is an extraordinary claim. From a distance, it appears that Mr. Lanza acted alone. He is dead. His mother, with whom he lived, is also dead, an apparent victim of her son's rampage. Mr. Lanza can hurt no one any longer…”

Did Mr.Sedensky, alone or in concert with others, sneak one past Superior Court Judge John F.Blawie when he asked for judicial permission to deep-six the redacted information?

“Surprising as it may seem,” Mr. Pattis writes, “the state's filing suggests that there is an active investigation of another defendant in the Newtown shooting case, a witness with such incendiary information that his or her safety would be in jeopardy were it to become public.”

Wracked by what U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal calls the “horror” of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the tortured parents of 26 innocent victims in Newtown must await the lifting of the fig leaf sometime in June, when the final criminal report is released, before their hearts may find rest in the truth that will set them free. In the meantime, they will have to be satisfied with legislation inspired by the rush of circumstances that very likely will not satisfy their curiosity or mitigate their pain.

Post a Comment