Hell hath no fury like journalists scorned. On Tuesday, four state media organizations -- the Wisconsin State Journal, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, WISC-TV (Ch. 3) in Madison and WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee -- filed a lawsuit over the refusal of public officials to release information regarding the 911 call made from the cell phone of UW-Madison student Brittany Zimmermann shortly before her murder on April 2.
The suit, filed in Dane County court, names Dane County, the Madison Police Department and the city of Madison, as well as specific officials within those agencies. It seeks access to Zimmermann's 911 call tapes, an unredacted copy of the 911 Center's report on the incident and other documents.
Officials have given conflicting accounts of the content of the call, whose existence was first reported by Isthmus. 911 Center director Joe Norwick has sought to suggest there was no sound on the line; Madison Police Chief Noble Wray says the call contained "evidence" which should have led to police being dispatched; a 911 Center union official says there were only muffled sounds of movement; and Dane County Exec Kathleen Falk says it contains "sounds that would have significance" to the dispatcher.
"The '911' system, maintained at public expense by public employees for the public's benefit, is the lifeline for city and county residents facing peril, whether natural or man-made," the suit says.
"The system's effectiveness has been called into question by recent developments, and repeated requests for public records about the controversy have been denied in part or denied altogether. With this complaint, news media in the state ask the Court to enforce their rights and the public's rights to records about the system -- in general and in particular."
According to the suit, the full text of which is available in the related downloads above, the named defendants have "violated the Open Records Law" and "deprive[d] the plaintiffs and the rest of the public of their rights." It asks that the requested records be ordered released and the plaintiffs reimbursed for their legal costs, as the law permits.
The case has been assigned to Dane County Judge Richard Niess; a hearing on the matter is set for June 18.