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Glasgow School District sues county coroner over inquest transcript

The Glasgow School District is taking the Howard County coroner to court over the transcript of a coroner’s inquest.

The lawsuit filed Thursday claims Coroner Frank Flaspohler withheld the transcript from the district, despite numerous requests it made to get it and the exhibits filed in the January 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.

Harley Branham, Suttner’s former manager at the Dairy Queen in Fayette, was charged with involuntary manslaughter as a result of the inquest. She pleaded not guilty to the charge shortly afterwards. A preliminary hearing is set for May.

The district’s attorney, Tom Mickes, said he requested the transcript as soon as the inquest ended, and was promised the record after it was fully transcribed. After making several verbal and written requests, Flaspohler still had not provided it. Mickes said on March 13, Flaspohler told him he could not get a copy of the transcript, since it was now a part of the criminal investigation, making it a closed record.

“There ought to be a record available to the public of a public hearing,” Mickes told ABC 17 News. “I don’t know any public hearing that you can’t get a copy of the record.”

Flaspohler told ABC 17 News that he consulted with April Wilson, the special prosecutor for the Branham case, on whether or not he could release the transcript. Wilson told him that since it was being used for the case, it was a closed record.

ABC 17 News has also attempted to obtain the transcript, but has not yet received a copy.

The six-person inquest jury not only found Branham responsible for Suttner’s death, but called the Glasgow School District negligent in handling the bullying Suttner went through. Mickes disagreed with the district’s portrayal at the inquest, including how the teachers were used. He said the coroner and prosecutor cherry-picked evidence to display without letting the district defend itself. A copy of the transcript would help answer questions parents and community members may have about the inquest.

“It would be nice for those teachers, and people in the community who want to come into the district and read the transcript, who would make it available for anyone that wanted to come in and read it,” Mickes said.

State law allows law enforcement agencies to close records in a case if it would “jeopardize a criminal investigation,” among other factors. Mickes claims since the inquest was open to the public, as law dictates, the transcript should also be public.

Mickes said he would drop the suit if he received the transcript and exhibits, and considered the lawsuit a “last resort” for the district.

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