Documents related to the inquest into the death of 17-year-old Kenneth Suttner should be available to the public, a Howard County judge ruled Wednesday.
The ruling came after Sandy Davidson, the Missourian’s attorney and an MU communications law professor, filed a motion in January seeking to modify or eliminate a protective order on the records.
The protective order prevented the inquest transcript and exhibits from being shared with the public.
Circuit Court Judge Scott Hayes did not take up the motion in the five-minute hearing Wednesday; instead he immediately decided to lift the protective order.
“The information is public the way it is supposed to be,” Hayes said.
But Howard County Coroner Frank Flaspohler would not give the documents to the Missourian following the hearing, saying he had to speak to his attorney first.
Flaspohler’s attorney, Richard Hicks, said he would recommend Flaspohler deny the Missourian’s request for the documents.
Hicks said that lifting the protective order did not necessarily make the documents public to everyone and that the ruling applied to special prosecutor April Wilson, who repeatedly has tried to keep the documents private, not Flaspohler.
The Missourian filed a request for the documents with Flaspohler on Nov. 27, 2017. The request was denied.
Flaspohler has maintained his office is a law enforcement agency and exempt from Missouri’s Sunshine Law.
“I’m concerned that if we were to fulfill requests for this transcript, then our stance would be inconsistent,” Hicks said.
Flaspohler said he understood Hayes’ ruling to mean that the protective order was lifted on the Glasgow School District, so they could give the transcript and exhibits to anyone who requested them, but it didn’t mean he had to release them.
Court records show the protective order prohibited the school district specifically from releasing the documents to the public.
The school district was the first organization to attempt to obtain the documents through the court after Flaspohler, who conducted the inquest, refused to hand over the inquest documents to the district.
Hayes ruled in October that the school district had been wrongfully denied records.
Wilson tried to keep the records closed, and Hayes ruled again in December to allow the district to receive copies of the documents. But he placed a protective order on the documents that barred anyone else from obtaining them.
Suttner killed himself in December 2016, and Flaspohler called an inquest into the cause and manner of his death because bullying was suspected.
The inquest jury found in January 2017 that the school district had been negligent in preventing bullying.
Tom Mickes, attorney for the school district, said previously the district couldn’t properly defend itself without knowing the contents of the inquest documents.
The inquest jury also recommended charges against Suttner’s former Dairy Queen manager, Harley Branham, who was accused of harassing Suttner to the point of tears. She was initially charged with involuntary manslaughter, but that charge was later dropped.
She now faces a felony stalking charge and four misdemeanor charges, two for assault and two for harassment, according to court records. Branham’s arraignment was scheduled for March 7.