Judge refuses to release Zimmermann 911 call - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Judge refuses to release Zimmermann 911 call

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A Dane Couny judge refused to release to media organizations a tape of the mishandled 911 call from the cell phone of murder victim Brittany Zimmermann.

   Judge Richard Niess ruled Monday the value of keeping the tapes' contents secret to help investigators try to solve the UW-Madison student's April murder qualifies as an exception to state law's presumption government records are open to the public.

   "This is not a cold case,"  Niess said.

   Niess said keeping the recording secret could help police interrogators evaluate whether suspects had involvement in the murder.   Niess quoted police witnesses that the tape contained critical, never divulged information.

   "I believe there is clearly information in these recordings that is not known to the public and more importantly, to Brittany Zimmermann's killer."

   Niess ruled a portion of the 911 call from Zimmermann's fiance when he discovered Zimmermann after the attack will be released next month.

   Media organizations sued Dane County officials to gain release of the tape.

   Authorities said 911 dispatcher Rita Gahagan failed to hear screams and sounds of struggle on the call before it disconnected, and no officers were dispatched to the crime scene until the victim's fiance called nearly fifty minutes later.   The mishandled call prompted intense scrutiny of 911 center operations, including performance, staffing and technology.

   "No one wants to see the killer go free,"  media attorney April Barker told the court.

   But Barker said there's "huge" public interest in evaluating whether county officials responded appropriately to the mishandled emergency call, and other operational issues at the center.

   Extra staffing and new technology are slated for the center.

   "They can't know whether the fix was appropriate, without knowing (the call's contents)."

   Several months after the Zimmermann call, authorities said another 911 operator mishandled routing of a disturbance call.    A man was dead by the time police officers responded more than an hour later.

   In May, Gahagan's union president told 27 News she had heard a tape of the call and said the only audible sounds were ones of "movement."

   But earlier this month, inadvertenly unsealed court documents revealed police descriptions of a scream on the call.

   Niess agreed with police detectives the call's content went beyond the descriptions in the unsealed court documents.

   Barker declined comment on whether the media organizations would appeal Niess' decision.



MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- A Dane County judge is expected to decide Monday whether to release a 911 call from a slain University of Wisconsin-Madison student.

  Media outlets are suing the county under the state open records law for a copy of the call made from Brittany Zimmermann's cell phone shortly before she died in April.

  The call has been a source of controversy as it was mishandled by a 911 operator, who says she didn't hear a scream or the sounds of a struggle that police say are on the tape.

  Police and prosecutors say releasing a recording of the call would jeopardize their investigation.

  Judge Richard Niess also is considering whether to release a 911 call from Zimmermann's fiance shortly after he found her stabbed to death in the apartment they shared.

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