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  • April 19, 2021
  • 46°

911 call in fatal police shooting won’t be released until investigation is complete, Lancaster DA says

Shooting on Laurel Street

Police assemble where a Lancaster city officer shot and killed a knife-wielding man in the 300 block of Laurel Street on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. The body of Ricardo Munoz is under the white tent at right.

Six hours after Ricardo Miguel Muñoz was shot and killed by a Lancaster police officer on Sunday afternoon, the city released the officer’s body camera footage that showed the confrontation that led to the shooting.

The Lancaster County District Attorney’s office says it concurred with the city’s decision to release the footage so soon after the incident. But three days later, the DA’s office denied a Right-to-Know request for the 911 call that was placed from the Muñoz house that resulted in the officer being dispatched to the scene.

In the denial letter sent to LNP | LancasterOnline on Wednesday, the office cited a part of the Pennsylvania law that exempts recordings of conversations between emergency dispatch personnel, including 911 recordings, from the open records law. The exemption includes the caveat that law enforcement agencies have discretion of when and what to release if an agency determines disclosure is in the public interest.

On Sunday, a police officer responded to a domestic disturbance on the 300 block of Laurel Street in Lancaster City after Lancaster County-Wide Communications received a 911 call around 4:13 p.m., according to a statement from Lancaster Bureau of Police.

When the officer arrived at the scene and approached the residence, Muñoz, 27, chased the officer while brandishing a knife. The officer shot and killed Munoz.

Muñoz’s family said they had been trying to arrange for an involuntary commitment for Ricardo, who they said had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. They said a mental health crisis agency that they contacted recommended that they call 911.

Shortly after 10:30 p.m. Sunday, Lancaster police released about a minute of body camera footage that shows what happened in the seconds leading up to the officer’s encounter with Muñoz and the shooting. The 911 call would shed light on what the officer dispatched to the home knew about the situation and whether information about Muñoz’s criminal record, which included charges for stabbings in 2019 that left four people injured, was communicated.

“While it is highly atypical to release an investigative material during an investigation, we felt strongly that such release was necessary considering the circumstances of Sunday evening,” DA spokesperson Brett Hambright said regarding the body camera footage.

“Regarding the 911 call, we do intend to release the recording at the conclusion of our investigation, when we announce our determination on the officer’s use of force,” Hambright said.

In the case of police shootings, the county prosecutor is charged with investigating to determine whether the shooting was justified.

The county and city agencies have gone “above and beyond '' what the law requires of them by making the body camera footage public, Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said on Wednesday.

“It’s encouraging that they’ve released body camera footage. Obviously, that plays a big role in providing accountability in these kinds of situations,” she said.

Mewlesky said she recommends that the district attorney release the 911 call for the same reason the city released the body camera footage -- for accountability and transparency.

“The 911 call is purely factual. Releasing it doesn't change anything about what happened, it only helps us understand what happened,” Melewsky said.

But she noted that state law gives the district attorney’s office a “carte blanche” to determine if the release is in the public interest.

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