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Park County commissioners, coroner file complaint against Evergreen Newspapers

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They are requesting an order barring public access to Long autopsy

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.”

 

Background, timeline of the events

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.

Following a Park County judge issuing and lifting a gag order on Dec. 4, the Park County Sheriff's Office publicly identified Long's remains and announced that her death was being investigated as a homicide. A task force consisting of investigators from the Park County Sheriff's Office, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) was formed in the aftermath to assist with the investigation, along with the creation of a dedicated investigative tip line.

Despite the vast number of resources dedicated to investigating Long's murder, investigators largely refused to speak on the record about the investigation or its progress, save for a press conference in February and the release of a composite sketch three weeks ago. 

More recently, however, Detective Sgt. Greg Jones — Park County's lead detective on the task force — sat down with the Courier for an exclusive interview. Jones revealed that investigators believe the Long home was targeted and that a man described in a “be on the lookout,” or BOLO, alert issued in December is the same individual described in the composite sketch released May 4.