By Jeffrey A. Roberts
CFOIC Executive Director
The names of child victims and witnesses would be removed from criminal justice records before the records are released to the public if legislation introduced by two state senators becomes law.
The Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act already requires the deletion of children’s names and other identifying information from records if the child is a victim of a sexual offense. CCJRA also lets criminal justice agencies redact the names of children who witness crimes upon a finding that disclosure would be “contrary to the public interest.”
But under Senate Bill 23-075, the names of all child victims and witnesses would be redacted and records of official action mentioning them stamped with the notation “CHILD VICTIM” or “CHILD WITNESS.”
“This is really about school safety,” Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, recently told the Aurora City Council, which passed a resolution supporting the bill.
Fields said the names of juveniles who witnessed a Nov. 19, 2021, shooting in the parking lot of Hinkley High School were included in arrest affidavits released to news organizations and the public, “and it caused some students to drop out.”
“Some students just could not handle the pressure,” she said. “They were bullied because they had cooperated with the police. It just caused a very chilling impact at that school.”
The city council resolution says the release of the names “was detrimental to the juveniles involved and further caused trauma and disruption to the students that were already deeply affected by the shooting at their school.”
The Aurora Sentinel reported Tuesday that “neither the Aurora Police Department nor Aurora Public Schools have provided evidence to support claims that students dropped out of school and went into protective custody because of the published affidavits.”
Affidavits for three of four teenage boys originally charged as adults in connection with the Hinkley shooting were released unredacted by the 18th Judicial District Court, the Sentinel story says. The Sentinel linked to the affidavits, which included the names and birth dates of eight juveniles, in an online story on Dec. 7, 2021, but the witness information was not included in the written story.
In Tuesday’s article, Sentinel Editor Dave Perry said the newspaper removed the links to the affidavits after Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman and a Hinkley employee expressed concerns in December 2022, a year later. “Publishing the names of minors involved in crimes is counter to the newspaper’s policy, unless they are being charged as adults,” the newspaper added. “Perry said he regretted the oversight that led to the affidavits being published without the paper doing its own redacting.”
“It was never our intention to link our reports with the un-redacted affidavit,” he added.
Fields is sponsoring SB 23-075 with Sen. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs. In 2005, her son and his fiancé were shot and killed before he was set to testify in a murder trial.
“My son was a witness,” Fields told the Sentinel. “I see it as a personal issue for me because we need witnesses to help us solve crimes. And if a child is involved in seeing a crime and their information is exposed and it creates a chilling effect in various settings, then that’s not going to do anything to keep our community safe.”
SB 23-075 is scheduled for a hearing Feb. 13 in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Follow the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition on Twitter @CoFOIC. Like CFOIC’s Facebook page. Visit CFOIC’s legislature page to track bills in the General Assembly that could affect the flow or availability of information in Colorado.