Little information has been shared about the mass shootings that took place on April 22, 2016, claiming the lives of seven adults and one teenager. Pike County must now defend a lawsuit brought against it by the Cincinnati Enquirer.
At issue are the finalized autopsy reports on the eight victims in the Pike County massacre, seven of whom were members of the Rhoden family, and the eighth victim, Hannah Gilley, was the fiance of Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden. Pike County Coroner Dr. David Kessler has refused to share the findings of those reports with any of the many media outlets who have formally requested the information.
In a news release, Kessler stated that legal counsel has advised that the autopsy records are considered to be “confidential law enforcement investigatory records” that the release of which might endanger the ongoing criminal investigation and/or the “families’ grieving process.”
Attorney General Mike Dewine, whose office is leading the Rhoden/Gilley murder investigation, concurred with Kessler and Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk in both their decision to withhold the Rhoden and Gilley autopsy reports and their legal ability to do so, in a statement made to the press on July 26, 2016. (See video above)
The Cincinnati Enquirer filed suit against Pike County for its refusal to divulge what that newspaper, and the Ohio Newspaper Association, contend are public records, records that may not be withheld without citing what by what legal authority they are doing so, something that has not been done by the officials involved.
The Ohio Newspaper Association’s executive director Dennis Hetzel, said to be an expert in public record laws, explained that those laws do not allow a public official to withhold any record in total, but may redact those portions of public records that meet the standards of non-disclosure.
Tony Rhoden, brother to two of the deceased, Kenneth Rhoden and Chris Rhoden Sr., stated that officials have not yet released the autopsy reports to the families either, and expressed concern that the reports will be withheld even from the families.
DeWine’s reasoning that the details of the autopsies cannot be revealed because it could prevent law enforcement from weeding out potential suspects or valid informants who were providing information learned from the autopsies rather than from firsthand experience, may mean the surviving family members will not yet have access to the autopsy reports. Unless investigators have ruled out the family as possible suspects in the massacre – and if so, have not shared that publicly, divulging details to the Rhoden and Gilley families may fall under the umbrella Kressler, Junk and DeWine are using to withhold that information from the press.
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