HOWARD COUNTY, Mo. - A judge has ordered the Howard County Coroner's Office to provide the Glasgow School District with copies of the transcripts made during an inquest held back in January, but Coroner Frank Flaspohler is appealing that decision.
The school district's attorney, Tom Mickes, said the inquest was one-sided and cast the district in a false light. He also said students and faculty named in the inquest were unfairly targeted.
"The district didn't have an opportunity to respond," he said. "One of the things we would have done (with the transcript) is an information release so everyone knew the whole story."
The lawsuit, filed back in March, claimed Flaspohler withheld the transcript from the district, despite numerous requests it made to get it and exhibits filed in the Jan. 31 inquest at the courthouse. The inquest investigated the suicide of Kenneth Suttner, a student in Glasgow who killed himself over bullying that occurred at school and at his workplace.
At the time, Mickes said thedistrict was not allowed to be present at the inquest.
Flaspohler told ABC17 News that he wouldn't release the transcripts because special prosecutor April Wilson told him they were part of her continuing criminal investigation. Harley Branham, Suttner's former manager at the Dairy Queen in Fayette, was charged with involuntary manslaughter as a result of the inquest.
The judge ordered the Coroner's Office to give the transcripts to the school district no later than Wednesday, but Columbia attorney Richard Hicks, on behalf of the coroner's office, filed a motion to stay the judgment. If it's upheld, the coroner would not have to turn over the transcripts until the appeal process is complete, which could take up to a year.
"We'll be over a year that students in Glasgow, faculty members and the district itself has been prevented from clearing their name from some wild accusations that were totally baseless," said Mickes.
Hicks is arguing that the coroner's office is a law enforcement agency and, per Sunshine Law, is not required to release "investigative" documents during an ongoing investigation. Judge Scott Hayes denied the claim.
"We respectfully disagree with that ruling," said Hicks. "Statute directs the coroner to work with the prosecutor in these sort of situations."
Under Missouri Law 58, a coroner is required to perform the duties of sheriff if the office is vacant for some reason. Hicks also said that medical examiners fall under the same statutes as coroners, and medical examiners are considered a law enforcement agency.
Mickes said that the coroner is in control of the information, not Wilson.
"The person who has the obligation, the public official that has the transcripts, is the coroner," he said.
Mickes, as well as Judge Hayes, questioned the purpose of keeping the transcripts closed if they had already been released to a member of the public, as well as conducted in an open courtroom.
"It's a public hearing," Mickes said. "You can't do it in public and then throw the cloak over it and say now you can't see it anymore."
Hicks said that there's nothing in the statute that said reports generated at a public hearing have to become public.
"There are scenarios when an investigation can continue or a separate investigation may arise out of a public hearing," he said. "Just because a hearing was public doesn't mean all the documents generated from that have to be disclosed."
For more background on the lawsuit, click here.