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Legal battle continues over documents from Howard County coroner’s inquest

In October, a Howard County judge ordered that the Howard County coroner hand over a transcript of his January inquest into the suicide death of Kenneth Suttner to the Glasgow School District, but the district is still trying to obtain some exhibits that were presented at the inquest.

“An inquest is like a grand jury in public and only one side of the evidence is presented,” said the district’s attorney Thomas Mickes. “Some of Glasgow’s students, teachers and the school district, in my opinion, were unfairly tarnished and they’d like an opportunity to clear their name.”

In the inquest, the jury determined Harley Branham, Suttner’s manager at the Fayette Dairy Queen, bullied him, and that the Glasgow School District was negligent in handling the bullying that took place at school.

The school district filed a lawsuit in March to obtain the transcript and subsequent documents in order to clear it’s name, according to Mickes.

For our coverage of the inquest and the subsequent involuntary manslaughter charge, click here.

Mickes, as well as coroner Frank Flaspohler’s attorney Richard Hicks battled it out in court Wednesday morning with little resolution.

Much of it came down to the same argument they’ve had for months: whether the documents, which now include the sheriff’s report on Suttner’s death and some phone records, were open or closed records. Both attorneys stood firm in their interpretations of the Sunshine Law in regard to open meetings.

Mickes said that because a deputy read from the sheriff’s report at the public inquest, that the report was therefore already a public document.

“Once you put it into open record, you can’t pull it,” he said. “I think the people are entitled to know what’s in that report.”

Hicks said he interpreted the law differently. He said that for him, the law reads that just because there’s an open hearing doesn’t “make it all open.”

“I know it may not make sense to the public at large [who say] ‘Hey, wait a minute, it was an open hearing, there’s a transcript, there’s exhibits,’ doesn’t make it all open,” he said. “I don’t believe the statute says that.”

Hicks said that, unlike the transcripts, Flaspohler did not have the sheriff’s report in his possession to turn over to the school district and couldn’t legally obtain it.

“He doesn’t have the ability to turn over what he doesn’t have,” he said.

Judge Scott Hayes said that despite all the arguments, no one had given a clear reason to support that the report needed to be a closed record or was even part of an ongoing investigation. He said he needed to weigh the greater good versus the private interest in the “super secret” reason.

Hicks said that they were willing to get that information and weren’t trying to obstruct the truth, but the instruction came from special prosecutor April Wilson, who requested the report not be released because of her ongoing investigation. In fact, Wilson just filed a motion to quash a subpoena issued to her by the Glasgow School District for the sheriff’s report.

Hayes said that because Wilson needed to present her motion to quash the subpoena in court anyway, they would plan another hearing for Dec. 19.

At that time, Wilson could present why she thought the report shouldn’t be released to the public, and the judge said he would also be willing to look at the documents in private and make a decision on their importance to the public interest.

“Give me a reason to close it, but right now it’s defaulted open,” said Hayes. “Put everything in front of me.”

While the issues of whether the documents should be released has not been resolved, the district did withdraw its motion to hold Flaspohler in contempt of court.

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