Park County requests court order barring newspaper from access to autopsy on 17-year-old

Canyon Courier (Evergreen): The Park County Board of Commissioners, acting by and through Park County coroner David Kintz Jr., has filed a legal complaint against the Canyon Courier’s umbrella organization Evergreen Newspapers, as well as reporter Sal Christ and editor Michael Hicks, seeking to restrict access to Maggie Long’s autopsy.

The complaint, filed in Park County District Court on Monday, seeks to legally bar the inspection and release of Long’s autopsy on grounds that allowing public access to the files would “do substantial injury to the public interest by jeopardizing and hindering the investigation of her death.”

The complaint comes a month after Evergreen Newspapers sent letters of intent to sue the coroner, as well as 11th Judicial District Attorney Molly Chilson, over their failure to fulfill a Dec. 14, 2017, Colorado Open Records Act request for access to Long’s autopsy. As the Courier previously reported, Kintz Jr. has repeatedly denied requests to release the autopsy since January at the request of Chilson.

Compounding the issue of the release of Long’s autopsy is Senate Bill 18-223, which seeks to close all public access to the autopsies of minors that was passed by the state General Assembly earlier this month. The bill is under consideration by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

If signed into law, it would seal the autopsies of minors and would force members of the public — as well as the media — to prove in court that “public disclosure of the report outweighs the privacy interests of the deceased and the members of the family of the deceased.”

Long, a 17-year old senior at Platte Canyon High School, died Dec. 1 in connection with a fire at her family’s home in Bailey. She was originally reported missing after failing to show up that night for a concert she helped organize at PCHS. Law enforcement officials later found Long’s remains while investigating an arson at the family’s home, but initially misled the media and members of the public about Long’s whereabouts, stating that no body was found at the scene.

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