Recordings of calls between police and the Orlando nightclub shooter, Omar Mateen, were released Monday night after a court ordered the city to make them public.
Judge Margaret Schreiber ordered the city of Orlando to release the recordings of Mateen's calls to 911 dispatchers and conversations with police negotiators during his siege on Pulse nightclub on June 12, which resulted in the death of 49 clubgoers and the shooter.
The judge opted to hold off on releasing 232 other recordings of 911 calls from people in the club the night of the attack in order to determine if their release will affect an active criminal investigation or they depict the killing of a person. Either of the classifications would allow the city to avoid the release of a recording.
Although the city published transcripts of Mateen's calls last month, city officials resisted releasing the actual recordings.
"The legal battle has been proceeding for some time and there was a lot of back and forth, but we're now down to the last remaining issues with respect to whether these calls will be released," said Rachel Fugate, the lawyer representing more than 25 news organizations that sued the city to force the release of the recordings.
The city released four recordings of Mateen, including his initial 911 call, which starts with his declaration, "I want to let you know, I'm in Orlando and I did the shooting."
Mateen refuses to give his name in the initial call to 911, instead pledging his allegiance to Daesh twice and giving his location only as "in Orlando" before hanging up the phone.
The other three recordings are conversations between Mateen and a negotiator identified as Andy, who initially expresses doubt Mateen is actually at the club but nonetheless takes the man seriously. Meanwhile law enforcement rushed to his home and pinged his cell phone to determine whether he was really at the nightclub.
During one of the conversations, Mateen demands the United States "stop U.S. airstrikes" in Iraq and Syria. He also refuses to tell Andy where he is located in Pulse, whether he had explosives or accomplices and what it would take to convince him to surrender.
"It's none of your business," Mateen tells Andy as to whether he has an accomplice and, after hanging up on Andy repeatedly -- who continues to try to establish contact with the extremist -- tells him "you're annoying me with these phone calls and I really don't appreciate it."
While the recordings offer an understanding of Mateen's attitude and demeanor, Fugate said the other calls from people at the club may reveal a lot more about the timeline of events during the attack, whether police were in contact with those inside Pulse and how law enforcement handled the situation.
Calls that do not either depict the killing of a person or have a potential effect on ongoing investigations would likely be released, Fugate said.
During a two-hour hearing, family members alternately asked the judge to release the recordings so they can hear the last words of their family members while others said they, and the rest of society, do not need to hear any of them.
Schreiber said she could not make a blanket determination on all of them without listening to all 232 recordings -- which she said she planned to do before making a decision.
"I told the judge I don't need to hear those calls because it's in my mind every day," Wilhemina Justice whose son was killed in the attack, told WESH-TV. "No one needs to hear our children beg for their life."
"This is a pain that never goes away," Justice said. "I don't need a timeline. I understand that's part of the job, but I don't need a timeline."
By Stephen Feller
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