A state appeals court has ordered the Suffolk County Police Department to turn over recordings and transcripts of a 911 call made by a woman whose 2010 disappearance led to the discovery of multiple human remains near Gilgo Beach.
The Appellate Division issued its decision Wednesday, agreeing with a lower court’s 2018 order directing the department to produce the recordings of Shannan Gilbert to attorneys representing her estate in a lawsuit against one of the last men who saw her in Oak Beach before she disappeared.
Police officials had said the tape release would interfere with the recently relaunched homicide investigation. Department officials said in a statement Thursday they will review the court order "and a determination will be made on how to proceed."
The search for the 24-year-old Jersey City sex worker led to the discovery of 10 sets of human remains at or near Gilgo Beach, apparently dumped by one or more serial killers, authorities said.
“We agree with the Supreme Court’s determination that the SCPD’s conclusory assertions that disclosure of the 911 recordings would interfere with an ongoing homicide more than eight years after Shannan’s death did not outweigh the plaintiffs’ interest in disclosure of material which was relevant to the plaintiffs’ action,” the panel of judges wrote in the Wednesday order.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart has said previously the department would comply with the appeals court's decision, during a January news conference intended to relaunch the Gilgo investigation with the release of a photo of a belt tied to one crime scene.
Derek Poppe, a county spokesman, said: “We are reviewing the decision and will be deciding our next course of action shortly.”
John Ray, the attorney for Gilbert’s estate, said he felt “vindicated by the courts” and “eager” to get his hands on what he called “key evidence” in Gilbert’s death during a news conference he held Thursday.
“There’s nothing anymore that stands in the way of getting these tapes that have been hidden from the public for 10 years,” said Ray. “We will now get them. Hopefully.”
Ray, flanked by his investigator, former Suffolk County Police Department homicide detective Bill Mahoney, said he’ll give the county attorney’s office a week to provide him with the recording, apparently between 21 and 23 minutes long, before going back to court to enforce the order.
But Ray said he won’t be satisfied unless he’s given the original recording so he can have it tested to see if it’s been “tampered with or shortened in any way.”
“If they give us copies, that won’t be good enough,” said Ray.
The discovery of human remains along Ocean Parkway began with the search for Gilbert, who was reported missing in May 2010. The county medical examiner listed her cause of death as undetermined, but an independent autopsy performed at the behest of her family in 2016 suggested she may have been strangled.
Gilbert’s mother, Mari Gilbert, was fatally stabbed to death in 2016 by another daughter, Sarra Gilbert, who was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Ray said Gilbert’s other sister, Sheree Gilbert, is thrilled with the appeals court ruling.
“She’s very anxious to hear her sister’s voice again,” said Ray.
“This is the fruit, at least this point, of a very long struggle,” he added. “The fruit is not just to find the killers of these girls who were found buried in Gilgo Beach and Oak Beach. But it’s a struggle against the police department for justice.