Recordings of 911 calls related to a first-degree murder case against a former police officer will be released to news media in late March, two months sooner than Gaston County Police and prosecutors wanted.
The calls center around former Ranlo Police officer Kwaku "Riley" Agyapon, who is charged with first-degree murder in the death of 33-year-old Juan Nikely Avalo.
Agyapon is alleged to have gone to Avalo's home in the early morning hours of New Year's Day. According to prosecutors, when Agyapon arrived, the two fought. Avalo cut Agyapon with a knife, then dropped the knife and tried to retreat, and that's when Agyapon shot him, prosecutors said.
In a court hearing on Wednesday, County Attorney Bill Stetzer argued that the 911 calls made about the shooting should be kept secret, "for now, if you will."
He told Superior Court Judge David Phillips that one of the three calls was made by Agyapon himself, and the District Attorney's Office is concerned about publicizing statements Agyapon made in that call.
Stetzer admitted that press freedom is important, but he asked Phillips not to release the calls right now, adding that it would be difficult to ask a jury to put aside Agyapon's own words about the shooting in order to give him a fair trial.
Assistant District Attorney Deborah Gulledge, along with Agyapon's defense attorney, Gael Gilles, both agreed with Stetzer and asked that the calls be sealed.
When Phillips pressed them to find out how long they wanted the calls to be sealed for, the group said that they wanted them sealed until Gilles receives all the discovery - or evidence prosecutors intend to use against Agyapon -and shares it with Agyapon.
That process can stretch throughout the judicial process, but Gilles eventually asked Phillips to seal the calls for four months.
Jonathan Buchan, a Charlotte attorney who represented The Gaston Gazette in the case, said that there is a significant amount of information that has already been publicized about the Agyapon case, and he asked that prosecutors specifically try to prove what exactly is in the calls that would jeopardize Agyapon's right to a fair trial.
"It's gotta be if something on those tapes, if that's disclosed, it would interfere," Buchan said.
He said that jurors are questioned during the jury selection process in a criminal trial, and that process allows both defense attorneys and prosecutors to make sure that jurors are fair.
Chase Stevens, an attorney who represented WSOC-TV, agreed with Buchan, saying that the county had not explained in detail what in the calls would jeopardize the police investigation and the prosecution of Agyapon. He said that allowing prosecutors to allege that calls might jeopardize an investigation without explaining why would essentially allow them to block any 911 call from being released.
Phillips, who listened to the calls before the hearing, ordered that the calls be released on March 31.
This article originally appeared on The Gaston Gazette: Judge delays release of 911 calls in off-duty police shooting