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Dispatch records to remain sealed

The public and media won’t get to see dispatch records to the home of Kobe Bryant’s alleged victim unless they come out at trial, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Eagle County Court Judge Richard Hart denied a media request for dispatch records from the past year to the alleged victim’s house. Colorado Mountain News Media and the Vail Daily asked the towns of Eagle and Vail for the records.

In denying the request, Hart ordered that “Vail and Eagle shall not disclose the records to the public or the media without prior court approval.”

Reactions from attorneys were predictably mixed.

“We are extremely happy with Judge Hart’s ruling,” said town of Eagle attorney Ed Sands. “While we had indicated from the beginning that these are difficult calls to make, the decision vindicates Sgt. Ward’s original decision not to release the documents. It’s just unfortunate it cost Eagle taxpayers a significant amount of money to obtain the decision.”

Sands said the price tag came to about $8,500.

Vail Daily attorney Rohn Robbins said he respected Hart but disagreed with this ruling. He also disagreed with Eagle County Judge Fred Gannett’s decision Wednesday to unseal nothing more than Kobe Bryant’s arrest warrant, leaving the criminal investigation information sealed.

“I don’t doubt their integrity for a second, but I disagree with their application of the law,” said Robbins. “In a case like this, you face the obstacle of the government defending the government, and you’re at a disadvantage right away. It’s like you’re in a football game with someone whose uncle is the referee.”

Hart’s order that none of the information be released without his approval effectively seals the files forever, said Robbins.

“We feel vindicated,” said Eagle Town Manager Willy Powell. “We felt all along that the records custodian has discretion in this matter. The allegations outweighed the arguments for freedom of information and were in the public interest.”

Colliding rights

In his oral argument in court, Sands called the question a classic confrontation between the victim’s right to privacy and the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and the freedom of the press.

“It’s about the First Amendment and the rights as we know them, but no right is absolute,” Sands said Wednesday.

Robbins disagreed.

“This amounts to the appearance of the court protecting the actions of the District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office,” said Robbins. “That’s in no way to suggest that what they have done is inappropriate, but we can’t know until it’s exposed to the light of day. That why these avenues exist. What they are doing, rightly or wrongly, is keeping this closed. It might be OK, but we cannot know that until we see it.”

As part of his ruling, Hart said the alleged victim presented an affidavit from a licensed psychologist, who said that the “release of the dispatch records would be tremendously harmful to the alleged victim and jeopardize her safety and that of her family.”

Similar records released elsewhere

Hart’s decision to seal the dispatch records flies contrary to decisions in Greeley and Newport Beach, Calif., related to the case.

Newport Beach police and ambulance personnel were summoned to Bryant’s house during the late night/early morning hours of July 2-3, when he returned home to California after he alleged raped the 19-year-old Eagle County woman. After the original call was disconnected, the dispatch operator called back and Bryant admitted making the call.

When they arrived, medics found Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, on a bed in one of their rooms. Newport beach police said they treated her on the scene, and that there was no sign of violence or any crime.

In an incident last February involving the alleged victim, campus police at the University of Northern Colorado released records detailing the alleged victim’s overdose in February. According to those records, campus police called emergency medical personnel to the alleged victim’s dorm, where she was found unconscious. Campus police said that because they thought she was a danger to herself, they had her transported to the Northern Colorado Medical Center.

Attorneys for the hospital are resisting efforts by Byrant’s attorneys to see the young woman’s medical records from that stay.

What remains sealed

– From Eagle

Three narrative reports pertaining to two dispatch calls.

– From Vail

Summary information and tape recordings pertaining to three dispatch telephone calls. One of those concerns a report of the alleged sexual assault which is the subject of People v. Bryant.

– Hart said: “The court has examined and listened to the contents of each sealed envelope. Two of the dispatch calls and all of the Eagle records pertain to to requests concerning medical assistance for Jane Doe (the alleged victim). The taped record is of a very brief contact, contains no factual details of the alleged sexual assault, and reflects a referral to the appropriate law enforcement agency.”

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