An attorney for the Suffolk County Police Department said in court on Monday that the department does not have any transcripts of the 23-minute 911 call Shannan Gilbert made the morning she vanished, the last time she was ever seen alive.
In December 2010, detectives searching for Gilbert first discovered the remains of suspected victims of the Long Island Serial Killer. But investigators have long insisted that Gilbert, who was found dead a year later just a few miles from the serial killer’s dumping ground, was not a homicide victim and likely died of natural causes.
But on Monday, in what appears to be a significant change in course, the SCPD submitted an affidavit that reportedly indicates the department is keeping open the possibility of foul play in Gilbert’s death at age 24.
The arguments presented Monday before Judge Sanford Berland at Suffolk County Supreme Court are the latest in a protracted, yearslong battle between Shannan Gilbert’s estate and the SCPD. The attorney for Gilbert’s estate, John Ray, has argued that there is no legitimate reason for the SCPD to refuse the release of the 911 call, on the basis of continued police claims that Gilbert was not a murder victim.
Earlier this month, as CrimeOnline reported, Judge Berland ordered the SCPD to share with the judge a transcript of the call or provide a compelling reason why releasing it would compromise an investigation. The judge clarified in court on Monday that he did not order the department to create a transcript if one did not previously exist, and Elaine Barraga, an attorney for the SCPD, said in court that the department does not transcribe 911 calls “in the normal course of business.”
Judge Berland said from the stand that while he was “inclined” to compel the SCPD to share a recording of the 911 call for the judge to review in the absence of a transcript, he would allow the department another week to submit an argument for refusing to release the call — over arguments from the estate’s attorney that the department should already have produced that, per the judge’s previous order.
Barraga submitted an affidavit Monday on behalf of the SCPD; Ray, having seen it for the first time, read some of its text in court and further discussed the affidavit with CrimeOnline after the hearing. According to Ray’s reading, the affidavit written by SCPD homicide detective Pat Portela states that investigators are keeping open the possibility of criminality in connection with Gilbert’s death, but does not specify why.
Barraga told CrimeOnline that she was not authorized to speak to the media.
Shannan Gilbert, who like at least four of the suspected Long Island Serial Killer victims was an online escort who advertised on Craigslist, was at the home of first-time client Joseph Brewer in Oak Beach on May 1, 2010, when she placed the 911 call. The department has previously acknowledged that Gilbert can be heard screaming, “They’re trying to kill me!” at one point during the call. After she hung up, Shannan reportedly went running through the neighborhood, frantic. She briefly stopped at the home of a neighbor, since deceased, and knocked on another neighbor’s door. Both of those residents reportedly placed 911 calls. By the time police responded, Gilbert had vanished. She was never again seen alive, and her remains were found in a marsh adjacent to the waterfront neighborhood in December 2011.
Gilbert’s estate is suing for the neighbors’ 911 calls in addition to the emergency call Gilbert made from Brewer’s home. Ray told CrimeOnline earlier this month that he suspects the 911 call recordings no longer exist, and predicted that the SCPD attorney would not provide a transcript at Monday’s hearing.
The attorney reiterated his suspicions to reporters outside of the courtroom Monday afternoon, saying that he believes it is possible that Gilbert’s 911 call recording has been destroyed.
Barraga has until March 26 to respond to the judge’s order. At this time, no further hearings have been scheduled, and Judge Berland is expected to submit a decision in writing.
[Feature image: Shannan Gilbert/Police handout]