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Court forces sheriff to release suicide report

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         WYOMING         Freedom of Information         Feb 22, 2002    

Court forces sheriff to release suicide report

  • The Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that a report assessing the suicide protocols of a county jail must be made available to a newspaper company.

The state Supreme Court ruled Feb. 8 that the Laramie County Sheriff’s Office must hand over the bulk of a report it commissioned on inmate suicides to a newspaper publishing company seeking its disclosure.

The court allowed the sheriff to redact a small portion of the report for security reasons.

The newspaper company, which owns the Laramie Boomerang and the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle in Cheyenne, requested the report under the Wyoming Public Records Act on Oct. 5, 1999 after two inmates held in the Laramie County Detention Center committed suicide.

Sheriff Roger Allsop denied the newspaper company’s request then, and again on October 18, 1999.

The company sued Allsop for the records in the Laramie County District Court in Cheyenne and won. Allsop appealed to the state’s Supreme Court, saying that the report was exempt from the Wyoming Public Records Act because it was an investigatory record, but the state’s high court affirmed the ruling.

D. Reed Eckhardt, managing editor of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, said he is proud of the case not only because it resulted in the report’s disclosure, but also because it helped to establish a legal precedent on the release of public documents in Wyoming.

“Wyoming’s legal precedents on open records and open meetings are very thin.” Eckhardt said. “We pushed to the end to get the precedents in place.”

Laramie County Sheriff spokesman Bill Thomas supported his office’s decision but was pleased that the court recognized that they needed to redact some of the security portions of the report.

“We felt, according to the law, we could not release the report with information about security measures” in it, Thomas said.

The “Cox Report,” named after its author Judith F. Cox, was commissioned by Allsop following a significant increase in suicide attempts and two inmate suicides. Cox, who works for the National Institute of Corrections, reviewed the circumstances with the goal of improving the jail’s suicide prevention system. Her findings, given to Allsop in the fall of 1999, did not contain any scandalous material, according to Eckhardt.

(Allsop v. Cheyenne Newspapers, Inc.) Media attorney: Bruce Moats, Cheyenne) KC

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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