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Sheriff must release prison suicide report to newspaper

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    NMU         WYOMING         Freedom of Information         Aug 4, 2000    

Sheriff must release prison suicide report to newspaper

  • A report commissioned by the sheriff to examine an increase in suicide attempts in the county jail was initially withheld from the media because release would threaten security at the jail, the sheriff said.

The U.S. District Court in Laramie County, WY, ruled on July 19 that Laramie County Sheriff Roger Allsop must release a report about suicides and suicide attempts at the county jail to the (Cheyenne) Wyoming Eagle-Tribune. Allsop plans to appeal the court’s ruling.

District Court Judge Keith Kautz ruled that all of the report, except for one portion relating to security in the jail, must be disclosed by the sheriff under Wyoming’s Public Records Act.

The sheriff commissioned the report after an increase in the number of suicides and attempted suicides at the jail in 1999. The report was prepared by Judith Cox of the National Institute of Corrections in June of 1999 and issued to the sheriff the following month.

The Wyoming Eagle-Tribune filed a lawsuit against Allsop in November of 1999, after Allsop refused to make the report public. Allsop argued that releasing the report would threaten security at the jail, according to Reed Eckhardt, managing editor at the Eagle-Tribune.

Instead, Allsop prepared and released a synopsis of the contents of the report. Eckhardt said that Wyoming’s open records act allows public officials to keep information confidential if release would cause a “threat to the public welfare.”

Eckhardt said the newspaper had hoped to have the report before November elections, when a vote on whether or not to approve a $15 million expansion to the jail will occur. But Allsop’s attorney, Peter Froelicher, claims that the decision to appeal the District Court’s holding is not related to the upcoming vote. The appeal likely would not be heard by the Wyoming Supreme Court until after the elections.

(Cheyenne Newspapers, Inc. v. Allsop; Media Counsel: Bruce Moats, Wyoming) JM

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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