Where can a 15-year-old drown and no one is permitted to know the victim's name?
The answer: West Virginia!
Once again the State of West Virginia has opted through its Department of Natural Resources to decide what the public is and isn't allowed to know. Once again the State of West Virginia has decided to disregard public record law and deny access to the identity of a teenager who drown in the Ohio River and had public officials on both sides of the river hunting for his body for several hours.
Days after the drowning, the DNR enforcement lieutenant still refused to release the identity of the youth, saying it was because he was a juvenile, even though there appears to be nothing in West Virginia law that covers such a denial of public record.
Hoy Murphy, the director of information for the DNR in Charleston, on Monday said he knew nothing about the drowning, even though it was a DNR investigation. He said he suspected the lieutenant was refusing to release the identity upon the wishes of the family, even though that also is not an exception to public record law and flies in the face of the family placing an obituary notice in their hometown newspaper in McArthur, Ohio. The information (or lack thereof) director said he would get back to me .... I'm still awaiting that call.
Why is it that West Virginia officials seem to think public record law can be manipulated to their own interpretation?
Did the DNR not think an obituary notice would be published for the youth? Does the DNR not think friends and relatives of the drowning victim might want to know about the death? Does the DNR not believe members of the general public might want to send their sympathies to the family of the deceased youth?
Or, is the DNR just so out of touch that it thinks it can make law as it goes?
It always makes me wonder if a state agency is withholding something as obviously a public record as a death, what else is being hidden from the public?
Is there any wonder the public is suspicious of government? Hasn't the government brought that suspicion upon itself?
The state medical examiner's office finally released the identity of the drowning victim, which was a huge surprise remembering all the problems in the past getting the examiner's office to release any public record information pertaining to a death, including the identity of the victim.
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is running for re-election. If he wants to get public support he needs to get his state agencies in line with state public record law and cease allowing bureaucrats to interpret or make law as they go.
We've seen it far too often that state agency directors and their underlings ignore the public and law to fit their own circumstances. It's long past time for the governor to step in ... as the sign on President Harry Truman's desk stated, "The buck stops here." And "here" is the governor's desk.
Speaking of information being withheld, the public still is awaiting the results of the West Virginia State Police investigation into the fatal shooting by Wood County deputy sheriffs of Jody Wilson outside his mother's home on the night of April 17-18.
Two months ago county Prosecutor Jason Wharton was expecting results of the investigation so he could present it to the grand jury. He reportedly finally got the report this week and will present it to the grand jury, even though Sheriff Jeff Sandy has returned the deputies to active duty.
The questions remain: Why did it take so long to conclude the investigation, when will it be presented to the grand jury and when will the public be advised of the investigation's outcome?
Contact Jim Smith at email@example.com