Portions of a county coroner’s autopsy reports that are part of an open homicide investigation are not public records and not available for public inspection until investigators release them, according to an Ohio Supreme Court ruling.
In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled the Pike County Coroner’s Office properly denied the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Columbus Dispatch unredacted versions of the autopsy reports for eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families who were murdered in April 2016. Writing for the Court majority, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor stated the legislature amended the law regarding coroner records in 2009 to exempt “confidential law enforcement investigatory records (CLEIR),” and that the portions redacted by the coroner met the exemption.
In separate dissenting opinions, Justices Sharon L. Kennedy and Patrick F. Fischer wrote that lawmakers clearly made autopsy reports public records and the exception to disclosure for confidential law enforcement investigative records does not apply to the materials the coroner refused to reveal.
The chief justice’s opinion was joined by Justice William M. O’Neill. It was also joined by Eighth District Court of Appeals Judge Frank D. Celebrezze, sitting for Justice Judith L. French, and Twelfth District Court of Appeals Judge Robin N. Piper, sitting for Justice R. Patrick DeWine.
Justice Terrence O’Donnell joined both of the dissenting opinions.