ORLANDO – A letter from Federal Bureau of Investigation
Special Agent Paul Wysopal has instructed local municipalities and agencies to forward
requests made under the Florida Sunshine Act for information and records pertaining
to the Pulse nightclub shooting investigation to the FBI.
In the letter, Wysopal said the FBI “has a strong interest
in protecting such information and records from public disclosure until such
time as the risks associated with the disclosure have expired.”
Wysopal said the FBI views information obtained from the scene
of the shooting as evidence or potential evidence and that release of the information
could hinder the investigation, place witnesses, law enforcement officers and
others in danger and possibly prejudice any legal cases arising from the
The FBI’s letter was sent to law enforcement officials in
response to requests for information related to the Pulse shooting. Wysopal
said in the letter that the federal Freedom of Information Act often protects
information related to an investigation, and that Florida’s Sunshine Law
contains similar provisions exempting “active criminal investigative
information” from public disclosure.
“Florida’s Sunshine Law, which is part of that state’s
constitution, dictates that all information is open from the start (unless
there is a reason) to keep it closed to the public, as opposed to other states
where it may be closed to begin with and you have to fight to make it open,” Daniel
Bevarly, interim executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition
at the Missouri School of Journalism, told the Florida Record.
Bevarly said the foundation has seen examples where an
agency refuses to turn over records until an open investigation is closed, as
well as cases where the agency may cite public protection to not release information
in active investigations.
“In those cases based on a policy, a public records
petitioner may only have the courts, via litigation, to pursue their request,”
In this case, Bevarly said it appears that the FBI and the
Orlando Police Department may choose to hold the requested information until
they feel its release is appropriate. He said this can be challenged in court.
“There are occasions when a government agency or public
institution follows an internal policy on releasing public information and not
the specific law that governs that public information,” Bevarly said. “In those
cases, petitioners may be able to appeal a denial to another agency, sometimes
the attorney general, or the only option that may be available to them is to
seek the information through litigation and filing an FOI lawsuit to obtain it.”
To the extent the local Florida law enforcement officials
are obligated under the Sunshine Law to disclose information related to the
investigation, including information that has been provided to the FBI, Wysopal’s
letter requests that the information be withheld under Florida statute
119.71(c)(1), which exempts release of information pertinent to an active
criminal investigation, or another applicable exemption.
In addition, the letter asks that the FBI be notified of any
Sunshine Law requests so the FBI can try to block the disclosure through appropriate
channels, if necessary.