The attorney representing the estate of a woman whose 2010 disappearance led to the discovery of multiple human remains near Gilgo Beach said Thursday that 911 calls made the day she vanished differed vastly from how Suffolk police described them in the past.
"There are things on the tape that I believe are extremely important to solving the case of Shannan Gilbert,” attorney John Ray said at a news conference outside his Miller Place office Thursday. “They are utterly inconsistent in any way with some of the information that's out in the public."
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart responded in a written statement: “The Court has implemented strict parameters to maintain the integrity of this ongoing investigation. We fully expect Mr. Ray to honor the requirement set out in the judge’s order, and as such, the Department will decline to comment further.”
Ray won a decadelong battle to access the 911 calls after a state appellate court on May 7 ordered the Suffolk County Police Department to turn over recordings and transcripts of the 911 calls as part of a lawsuit against one of the last men who saw her in Oak Beach before she disappeared.
The attorney said after he listened to the recordings of the 911 calls, he concluded that former Suffolk Police Det. Vincent Stephan made several false statements in a letter he wrote to the editor published in Newsday in January 2013 defending the police investigation into the Gilgo murders.
Ray cited the following passage from Stephan’s letter describing Gilbert's tone on the tape: “Her demeanor on the tape was calm. You can hear male voices on the tape, and they are calm. At no time during this call was she desperate.”
But Ray said he couldn't detail why it was false, citing the court order.
"This letter was pregnant with false statements,” Ray said. "The reason why Det. Stephan wrote this letter, filled with these falsehoods, which are on very key points, is mysterious."
Reached by phone Thursday, Stephan, who is retired from the department, said he’d be willing to sit down with Ray and listen to the recordings together and added : “I stand by my opinion of the tape.”
The discovery of human remains along Ocean Parkway began with the search for Gilbert, a sex worker 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.
Police had long said the release of the recordings would interfere with its homicide investigation into the still unsolved killings of 10 people, including a child, whose bodies were found near Gilgo, Oak and other beaches. But, according to Ray, Suffolk Homicide Det. Pat Portela ultimately handed over two disks containing the calls to Ray on Tuesday afternoon — right up against the Wednesday deadline he gave them. He said he’s so far spent six hours listening to them, over and over.
Ray stressed that while the court order allowed him to access the recordings, he is explicitly prohibited from releasing the contents.
But, he said, "I am not under a restriction in discussing what is not on the disks. And I am not under any restriction in discussing my opinions on what has already been revealed.”
Ray said Suffolk police never sought the original 911 calls from the State Police and also did not turn over transcripts or voice analyses of the calls, which he was entitled to according to the court order, because they were never done.
“It certainly strikes me as passing strange that the police has never made a transcript of the voices on the tape and have never made any analysis of what they heard,” Ray said.
Ray reserved his only compliment for Hart for agreeing to release the recordings after saying at a January news conference she would abide by the appeals court’s decision.
"She kept her word,” he said.
But he said his battle for the truth of what happened to Gilbert continues. He said he plans to subpoena the state police for the original calls, which he said are likely long deleted and the medical examiner for photographs of Gilbert’s bones, the jacket Shannan was wearing when she was last seen and her notes from the autopsy.
"I'm not done,” Ray said. “I'll fight until this is over."