Editorial: You have a right to know

Colorado Springs Independent: On May 29, the Independent, the Gazette, KOAA, KKTV and Fox21 — along with Denver TV stations KDVR and KUSA-TV — scored a major victory when a district court judge ruled El Paso County erred by withholding public documents and ordered it to pay media outlets’ attorney fees.

Together, we spent close to $30,000 on this fight for transparency — a battle against the county’s taxpayer-funded lawyers, who were attempting to seal public records related to an embarrassing and tragic incident. Fourth Judicial District Judge Michael McHenry found that the county must now foot our bill. (If the county had just paid our legal fees after releasing those records, that bill would have stood at around $1,500. The county hasn’t said if it will appeal.)

All of this stemmed from former El Paso County Coroner Robert Bux’s refusal last year to release autopsy reports for Sheriff’s Deputy Micah Flick, killed in the line of duty, and suspect Manuel Zetina, gunned down by law enforcement. Bux noted Flick’s widow didn’t want the report released, and that the deaths were, at the time, an open investigation. 

The law sets no such parameters. Autopsies — except in the rarest of instances — are public records, plain and simple. And it’s hard not to be skeptical about the reasons behind attempting to shield these particular reports (which Bux ultimately released on Sept. 7), given that police didn’t follow normal guidelines in their Feb. 5, 2018, attempted-arrest-turned-chaotic-shootout, as documented in our award-winning June 20, 2018, cover story by Pam Zubeck.

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