Cortez newspaper finally obtains records after six requests

From The Cortez Journal:  The Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office turned over public records in the Patricia McEachern discrimination case only after a First Amendment attorney requested the records on behalf of The Journal, citing a 2008 Colorado Supreme Court decision.

The Journal had requested the records a half-dozen times between November 2013 and September 2015.

The newspaper made its first request for the personnel records in November 2013, days after learning that the sheriff’s office had terminated patrol deputy Patricia McEachern. Then-Sheriff Dennis Spruell refused to release details of the termination, stating, “If a department violation has occurred, we will take corrective action.”

On Jan. 29, 2014, and Feb. 5, 2014, The Journal filed requests under the Colorado Open Records Act for McEachern’s personnel file, including details of internal investigations. The requests were denied.

“Until I know why the record is being sought, and how it is going to be used, I have the discretion to deny,” then-record custodian and Undersheriff Lynda Carter replied in an email on Feb. 5, 2014.

Colorado law stipulates that custodians may withhold investigative records if their release would be contrary to the public’s interest.

The Journal pursued the case again on Aug. 18, 2015, after Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin confirmed that a settlement in the McEachern discrimination case had been reached. Nowlin said he had no personal knowledge of the settlement details and advised the Journal to contact county officials.

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