Objection delays release of records in school shootings

EVERETT — The planned release of police reports about the fatal October shootings at Marysville Pilchuck High School was delayed Monday by a last-minute lawsuit brought on behalf of the shooter’s former girlfriend.

Attorneys for the girl, 15, maintain she would be irreparably harmed if the contents of text messages she exchanged with ex-boyfriend Jaylen Fryberg are made public amid thousands of pages of police reports about the incident.

More than 1,200 pages of police reports and other documents were scheduled to be released at 1 p.m. Monday, but that was put off for a day after a hearing before Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Richard Okrent.

“We are talking about the life of a frightened and traumatized young girl,” Seattle attorney Thomas Ahearne said. He asked for a court order to block release of the records.

The text messages were reviewed by detectives trying to figure out why Jaylen, 15, shot five of his friends inside a school cafeteria before killing himself.

The public has a legitimate interest in learning what police have determined, open government attorney Michele Earl-Hubbard told the judge in support of a records request by The Daily Herald.

“Law enforcement thought those texts were relevant,” she said.

Okrent scheduled a hearing Thursday afternoon to closely consider whether the texts and certain other identifying information should be redacted from police reports. Meanwhile, he said, the City of Everett is free to release other records that don’t contain the information in dispute. That’s now scheduled to happen midday Tuesday.

Ramsey Ramerman, an assistant city attorney who specializes in open government law, said that the girl’s lawyers had made some good points about redacting certain information, but officials are convinced the bulk of the records about the investigation, including some key texts, ought to become public.

The plan was to release the police reports prior to the start of the school year, which resumes next week in Marysville. Delays would serve no good purpose, he said.

The Snohomish County Multiple Agency Response Team in late July completed its investigation into the Oct. 24 shootings. That meant the investigation was subject to disclosure under the state’s public records laws. It’s taken weeks for records officers to pore over all the documents, redacting information they believe should remain private.

Jaylen’s ex-girlfriend and her family cooperated with police after the shootings. Law enforcement led the family to believe that the content of her phone, including text messages to Jaylen, would remain private, her lawyers wrote.

“Why would law enforcement who she should be able to trust, especially in this difficult time in her life, cause even more pain and suffering by releasing the communications they told her they would keep private? Why would they punish her for trying to help them?” her aunt wrote in a declaration submitted to the court on Monday.

The girl’s identity already has been widely published by various print and online media. Her Facebook page also is public, and no effort is made there to hide her past association with Jaylen.

Some of the messages at issue now also were included in a search warrant that was filed in November in Cascade District Court. Detectives wrote that the messages between Jaylen and the girl seemed “rather normal” until Oct. 18. On that evening, the tone changed, police wrote in the affidavit.

On Oct. 22 Jaylen wrote:

“I set the date. Hopefully you regret not talking to me”

“You have no idea what I’m talking about. But you will”

“Bang bang I’m dead”

The girl responded and asked Jaylen to stop sending messages, detectives said. He wrote back, “No. You don’t care. I don’t care.”

On the morning of the shooting Jaylen sent the girl’s cousin a picture of a gun between his legs. He wrote, “Have (the girl) call me before I do this.” The message was sent at 10:25 a.m.

A short time later, Jaylen sent a message to several people in his family, describing in detail his wishes for his funeral and disposition of property, the search warrant said. The shooting began about 10:37 a.m.

“The killing of plaintiff’s friends and suicide of her former long-term boyfriend traumatized her,” Ahearne wrote. “A public release of any portion of plaintiff’s texts with her family and friends (including recent boyfriend) would now re-traumatize her.”

The girl has been unable to speak about what happened, her aunt wrote in declaration filed in the case. “My niece was distraught and inconsolable that day.”

Reporters sought her out, calling and texting. “Swarms of reporters wanted to question my niece about the shooting and about her relationship with the shooter and victims.”

She has been constantly harassed. The attention and harassment has exacerbated her emotional distress, according to the pleadings. The week after the shooting, friends told the family that media were at the girl’s school and had started going door-to-door in the community.

The girl dropped out of her high school. She has been looking forward to returning to school and “getting her life back,” her lawyer wrote.

She never intended for her texts to be made public and not “for all to see on the Internet where they will be forever on display for the rest of her life.”

Her identity will be revealed if the texts are made public, even if her name and other details are redacted, the girl’s lawyers said.

There have been people who have blamed her, the police chief of the girl’s tribe wrote in court papers. She and her cousin were threatened and he put armed teams in place to protect them.

Release of her texts “may inflame or re-ignite the rage or blame of unstable people. Society has no need to read these messages to determine what happened; the matter is clear. Their release will serve no good, but may used to ignite more evil,” the police chief wrote.

Scott North: 425-339-3431; north@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snorthnews.

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