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Nexstar Media Group, Inc., et al v. Keller

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  1. Freedom of Information

Case Number: 2021CV30042

Court: Fremont County District Court

Clients: KDVR-TV Fox31 Denver and Rob Low

Complaint Filed: June 8, 2021

Background: Rob Low, an investigative reporter at KDVR-TV in Denver, filed a Colorado Open Records Act request with Fremont County Coroner Randy Keller for photos included in the autopsy report of LaMarcus Hillard, an inmate who was allegedly murdered at Colorado’s Supermax facility, the nation’s highest security prison. Low’s request, which specifically asked for photos of the murder weapon, not of Hillard’s body, was denied just days after the journalist received the autopsy report in response to an earlier records request.

Low’s CORA request was denied based on the defendant’s argument that the photos are part of an ongoing investigation, and that the photos are part of the coroner’s investigatory file rather than part of the autopsy report. Under Colorado Law, an autopsy report is a public record and, in most circumstances, deemed open to the public. (Photographs are considered “writings” under CORA and public records under the state’s public records laws.) In the complaint, Rachael Johnson, the Reporters Committee Local Legal Initiative attorney in Colorado, argues that the autopsy photos are part of the autopsy report, rather than the coroner’s file; and therefore, an open record under CORA.

The lawsuit urges the Fremont County District Court to issue an order permitting Low to inspect and copy the autopsy photos.

Update: On July 22, 2021, the Fremont County District Court issued an order denying KDVR’s claims. The court ruled that while a coroner’s office maintains public records and is an officer of a political subdivision under CORA, when it investigates a death with criminal implications, the coroner’s office also meets the definition of a “criminal justice agency” and therefore has discretion to release records under the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act.

Filings:

2021-06-08: Complaint

2021-07-22: Order denying plaintiffs’ claims and requested relief