Thursday, August 23, 2018

El Paso County coroner reconsiders sealing autopsy reports in deputy's death

Posted By on Thu, Aug 23, 2018 at 3:16 PM

click to enlarge COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
El Paso County Coroner Robert Bux might back off from his effort to keep secret autopsy reports of Sheriff's Deputy Micah Flick and auto theft suspect Manuel Zetina, both killed in the Feb. 5 shootout that also wounded three officers and a passerby.

Bux had said he was asking to stop the release of the public records due to an ongoing investigation and due to Flick's widow's grief. Neither of those are legal reasons for withholding the reports, but Bux was trying to argue that together they represented "a substantial injury to the public interest.

That excuse seems odd now given that an investigation into the shooting has been released that details both deaths.

In response to the Independent's question of whether Bux would proceed, in light of the District Attorney's report spelling out the injuries to both, Assistant County Attorney Diana May says in an email:
Based on a change of circumstances with the conclusion of the investigation, the Coroner's Office is reassessing whether a substantial injury to the public interest still exists. I hope to have an answer by the end of the day tomorrow [Aug. 24].
The comments come after DA Dan May released his finding on Aug. 21 that the shooting was justified and no officers would be charged with any crimes. It also comes a week after an innocent bystander, Thomas Villanueva, who was paralyzed from the chest down by a bullet fired by Zetina, and his family protested Bux's attempt to keep the autopsies secret.

click to enlarge Thomas Villanueva, his parents and friends protested outside the El Paso County Coroner's Office on Aug. 15, demanding the autopsy reports and police reports be released. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Thomas Villanueva, his parents and friends protested outside the El Paso County Coroner's Office on Aug. 15, demanding the autopsy reports and police reports be released.
The issue arose when Bux filed a petition asking the court to seal the reports to protect the Flick family from grief. Read the petition here:

Here's our report on the petition.

The Independent and Gazette have since asserted they will fight Bux's petition, for which a hearing is to take place Aug. 24 for setting a future hearing.

There are lots of good reasons to oppose sealing the records, which are articulated in an Indy editorial by News Editor J. Adrian Stanley.

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