Aurora theater shooting victims denied criminal records, 911 tapes for lawsuit against theater owner

3 shooting victims suing owner of Century 16

AURORA, Colo. - Three victims of the Aurora theater shooting have been denied access to arrest and search warrant documents, 911 tapes and transcripts and access to the Century 16 theater to gather evidence for their civil lawsuit against the theater owner.

The three victims -- Brandon Axelrod, Denise Traynom and Joshua Nowlan -- have filed a federal lawsuit against Cinemark, owner of the Century 16, saying that lax security allowed the shooting rampage to happen.

Arapahoe County District Judge William Sylvester, who is overseeing the criminal case against shooting suspect James Holmes, on Tuesday denied release of the sealed arrest and search warrant records. However, Sylvester said the victims might renew their requests after a preliminary hearing for Holmes, when more details on the evidence in the case will be made public in court.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have asked that court documents remain sealed to preserve the ongoing investigation and protect Holmes' right to a fair trial.

Earlier this month, Sylvester also denied the victims' request for access to the theater where Holmes allegedly opened fire on July 20 during a midnight showing a new Batman movie. A dozen people were killed and 58 others were wounded.

The victims said they wanted "access to the theater for purposes of documenting and photographing the theater" for their lawsuit.

Sylvester said he didn't have jurisdiction to grant access to the theater because it's no longer a crime scene and has been returned to the owners' control.

The judge also said he could not grant the victims' request for 911 tapes and transcripts regarding the shooting, because those records are not part of the criminal case file and he has no jurisdiction over them.

The victims filed a Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act request with the city of Aurora seeking release of the 911 recordings and transcripts.  The city denied their request, saying releasing the records "could jeopardize the integrity and fairness of the criminal investigations and therefore is against the public interest," according to the judge's ruling.

In an Aug. 31 denial letter to the victims' attorney, an attorney for the city wrote:

"The City is undertaking its own investigation [into the theater shooting], as well as fully cooperating with other law enforcement agencies also investigating those events."

The City is well aware of the public's interest in gathering information relating to those events," Aurora's attorney wrote. "The public concern over the events of July 20 has been overwhelming, and has garnered coverage by virtually every major news media outlet and a visit from the President of the United States.

"It is precisely the significance of these events and the attendant public grief and sense of loss, that require the City to do everything it can to ensure the integrity and fairness of the criminal investigation relating to these events. In light of the overriding public importance of the criminal investigation, it is the City's opinion that release of the requested records at this time would do substantial injury to the public interest," the city's attorney added.

Print this article Back to Top