A Suffolk County judge on Thursday denied the public release of 911 calls connected to the 2010 disappearance of a woman whose missing persons case led to the discovery of multiple human remains near Gilgo Beach.
"I don't see where public disclosure … is warranted here, or what it would advance in terms of your prosecution of your client's claim, especially in the face of the police department taking the position that it could have a negative effect on their work," State Supreme Court Justice Sanford Berland said during a virtual court proceeding Thursday.
John Ray, the attorney for the estate of Shannan Gilbert, argued Thursday for permission to share the recordings publicly after he won a nearly decadelong battle for access to the calls made by Gilbert and residents of Oak Beach in the early morning hours of May 1, 2010, when Gilbert was last seen.
The search for the 24-year-old Jersey City sex worker, whose body was found Dec 13, 2011, in a marshy area of Oak Beach, led to the discovery of 10 sets of human remains at Gilgo Beach that were apparently dumped by serial killers, authorities said. The content of the 911 calls are part of Ray's lawsuit against Oak Beach resident Dr. C. Peter Hackett, the last person known to have seen Gilbert alive.
Though Ray was granted access to the recordings by Berland, a ruling affirmed by an appellate court, both courts restricted Ray from sharing the contents of the 911 calls with the public, citing the Suffolk County Police Department's contention that public distribution would hurt its ongoing criminal investigation. Ray, in an earlier motion and in an oral argument conducted virtually Thursday, pushed for the court to allow him to release the calls publicly arguing the department's claim of an ongoing investigation is "not reasonable."
But Berland rejected Ray's arguments. The judge said his prior ruling was a balance, designed to "not deprive" Ray's quest for "potentially material information" while also "not inhibiting or undermining the work the police say they continue to do."
Berland, however, instructed Ray to file a written request, under seal, for permission to share the calls with specific individuals that the judge will consider.
The judge’s ruling represents a victory for the police department, which has long argued to keep the contents of the 911 calls private, arguing their release would imperil its ongoing homicide investigation.
The Suffolk police department declined to comment.
Ray said afterward he was disappointed, but grateful he had at least scored a narrow victory.
Ray said he planned to ask permission to play the calls for several people, including some Oak Beach residents, family members, and investigators helping him with the civil case and Gilbert's family.
"The remaining sisters want to hear Shannan’s voice," said Ray. "They loved Shannan. These are her last words. Like any family, they want to hear her. They want to hear their sister."