Colorado Springs Independent: El Paso County Coroner Robert Bux is asking a court to shield autopsy reports of Deputy Micah Flick and auto theft suspect Manuel Zetina, killed in a police shootout on Feb. 5, after the Colorado Springs Independent and the Colorado Springs Gazette sought them under the Colorado Open Records Act.
In his petition for review of the public records requests, Bux argues that disclosure of the autopsy reports would “cause substantial injury to the public interest.” In support of that assertion, he states that their release would cause harm to Flick’s family.
The Indy published a cover story on June 20 revealing new details of the shooting, which also injured three officers and gravely wounded a 28-year-old innocent bystander, Thomas Villanueva. Villanueva has filed a notice of claim against the city and county, a precursor to a lawsuit.
The reason the coroner is seeking protection for the documents is because autopsy reports are considered public records under the law. “The custodian of the records has the burden to prove an extraordinary situation and that the information revealed would do substantial injury to the public,” the petition states.
Bux’s maneuver doesn’t sit well with First Amendment advocates.
“Coroner Bux has previously sought permission to withhold a homicide autopsy report on grounds that would apply to a broad category of similar cases, and the court rejected that application,” Denver First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg says via email. “This case should yield the same result. The interests of surviving family members is always at issue in the aftermath of a murder, and if that were adopted as a valid basis to withhold autopsy reports, it would apply in every homicide case.”
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