Thursday, December 16, 2010
Interim state medical examiner says he would rather go to jail than abide by the state Open Records Act
Interim Chief Medical Examiner Andrew Sibley said Thursday he won't release unfinished autopsy reports even if disclosure is required by state law, News9 reports.
"If there is a problem with that and I have to go to jail over it, so be it," said Sibley. "I would have no problem going to jail with a clear conscious."
Earlier this month, Sibley refused to release to KOCO and The Oklahoman the autopsy report in the slaying of an Oklahoma City mother.
"It is my belief that the premature release of further details may interfere with the ongoing investigation and subsequent prosecution," Sibley told KOCO.
Sibley refused to cite an statutory provision exempting the autopsy.
Apparently, he doesn't care that one doesn't exist.
According to News9, medical examiner spokeswoman Cherokee Ballard, a former television reporter, said releasing documents early became an issue after the murder of an Anadarko pastor. Pressure from the state attorney general forced the medical examiner to release the body diagrams.
(The Oklahoman reported Friday that it and other news organizations last year began getting diagrams in homicide cases before autopsy reports were finalized. The attorney general's office advised the medical examiner's office those initial reports were public under the Open Records Act.)
Autopsy reports are a government record to which the public is entitled. That should not change.
This blog has pointed out since April that the press and public have used autopsy reports elsewhere to uncover incompetency and corruption by police, medical examiners and coroners.
State legislators have twice rejected limiting what the public may know from autopsy files involving homicides and cases in which the manner of death is either pending or unknown.
The most recent attempt was withdrawn in May because of stiff opposition on the House floor.
Among those critical of the bill was state Rep. Lucky Lamons, a former Tulsa police officer. He said autopsy records should remain open, especially considering the problems plaguing the state Medical Examiner's Office.
Lamons pointed out that Tulsa police still solved homicides even though it never asked the medical examiner to withhold information.
In the meantime, two open government advocates in the state tell me they hope a prosector will oblige Sibley and throw him in jail.
Joey Senat, Ph.D.
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications