The Suffolk County Police Department must release 911 calls related to the disappearance of Shannan Gilbert, whose death may be connected to the Gilgo Beach serial killings on Long Island, a court has ruled.
A New York Appellate Division court decided unanimously Wednesday to uphold a 2018 Suffolk County Supreme Court ruling, which ordered the police department to release the audio to Gilbert’s family, rejecting the appeal of the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD).
“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 investigation 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 decision states.
Gilbert, 24, made a panicked call to 911 on May 1, 2010 while seeing a client out on Oak Beach, Long Island. She was a sex worker, who would sometimes find her clients on Craigslist. In that call, she allegedly screamed “They’re trying to kill me!” according to PIX11. It's not clear who she was referring to.
The call is reportedly more than 20 minutes long.
Police claim she was acting irrationally that night, refusing to go home with her driver. They said she fled on foot through the Oak Beach community, knocking on several doors before vanishing.
Gilbert estate lawyer John Ray previously told Oxygen.com that three other 911 calls were made that night. One call was from Gilbert's client Joseph Brewer and two were from neighbors.
“Now we have the court side with me after a three-and-a-half-year exhausting battle in various courts to force the Suffolk County Police Department to give up civil tapes of Shannan and the voice of three others who called 911 when Shannan disappeared," Ray told Oxygen.com on Thursday.
He added that “the ruling is just another piece of the history of this case, this American serial killer case. It’s like the American version of Jack the Ripper."
Gilbert’s disappearance led to the grim discovery that a serial killer has been dumping bodies along the area. As police searched for Gilbert, they came across 10 sets of remains in the area, whose deaths have been attributed to an unknown killer, or killers, known as the "Long Island Serial Killer," the "Gilgo Beach Killer," and the "Craigslist Ripper" because many of the women found dead had advertised sex work on Craigslist.
Gilbert’s skeletal remains were discovered in a marsh in Oak Beach on Dec. 13, 2011. Her remains and the remains of five others who were also found on Long Island have not been officially linked to the serial killings, but theories have been put forth that their deaths could also be connected. Gilbert was even the main focus of “Lost Girls,” a recent Netflix film which depicted how Gilbert’s family, along with the families of the Gilgo Beach victims, sought justice for their loved ones.
Police have previously claimed that Gilbert may have died of natural causes, with officials theorizing at the time that Shannan may have been the victim of an accidental drowning, according to NBC New York.
The Suffolk County Police Department previously told Oxygen.com that a medical examiner has ruled her cause of death as inconclusive. While she is not officially considered a victim of the Long Island serial killings, she is included on the victim list of the Suffolk County Police Department's site dedicated to the investigation.
Ray has long disputed the previous claim of natural death. He told the Long Island Press that “it is especially pleasing that the Appellate Division’s decision to uphold the court order to release the recordings was made the week of the 10th anniversary of Shannan’s disappearance.”
The Suffolk County Police Department told Oxygen.com Thursday that "department officials will review the court order regarding the 911 recordings and a determination will be made on how to proceed."
They can still possibly appeal the ruling to the state’s highest court, according to the Long Island Press.
“I expect them to dig in their heels and try another avenue other than giving up tapes,” Ray told Oxygen.com.
Ray said that if the department refuses to give up the tapes, he is going to try to get them held in contempt of court.
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