State justices rule against making autopsy reports public - - Columbia, South Carolina |

State justices rule against making autopsy reports public

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In a 4-1 ruling, the state Supreme Court has ruled autopsy reports will not be accessible to the public. The ruling states autopsy reports can be considered "medical records" and are protected by privacy laws.

Richland County Coroner Gary Watts says there's a good reason to keep these records away from the public's view.

"Sometimes there's information in the autopsy that's not general knowledge," said Watts. "For instance, the number of times an individual has been shot. Sometimes that's important to law enforcement to not release that information because they're dealing with suspects and witnesses and they don't want that information out there."

Watts says the families of victims have always been able view the autopsy report and police tell everyone else only what they need to know.

"It's not going to serve a purpose to anyone," said Watts. "The information is coming out, it's going to be released -- what's pertinent to the public. The general autopsy itself and photos serve no purpose."

Bill Rogers with the South Carolina Press Association disagrees.

"Someone has to have oversight of that autopsy report to make sure it matches up with the police account," said Rogers.

Citing recent indictments of law enforcement leaders, Rogers says more public oversight is needed.

"We've had eight sheriff's indicted in the last ten years, so can we trust the sheriff? Yes, but not always," said Rogers. "We need oversight."

In the end, Rogers says the media can be trusted.

"I think the media has shown it has been responsible with that information," said Rogers.

There was discussion amongst the justices of allowing redacted autopsy reports to be released, but ultimately that was struck down. Watts says that would present new problems like who should decide what to be redacted.

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