Arizona Republic Sues for Yarnell Hill Fire Records That Officials Refuse to Release

It appears that several news organizations around here have been stonewalled in their quests to investigate the deaths of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots in the Yarnell Hill Fire.

Among those news outlets are the Arizona Republic and 12 News, which announced a lawsuit filed against the Yavapai County Sheriff's and Medical Examiner's offices for their refusal to release records that seem to be public records.

See also:
-Should the Autopsies of the Granite Mountain Hotshots Be Kept Under Wraps?
-Hotshots Never Should've Been Deployed, Mounting Evidence Shows

The Republic and 12 News were among several media outlets attempting to get autopsy reports, as well as other records made while the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office investigated the firefighters' deaths.

The Associated Press previously reported that it got a letter from Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk claiming the privacy interests of the Hotshots' families override the public interest of the documents. Autopsy reports are usually released to media outlets without any complaints, let alone total refusal.

In our morning poll, more than 70 percent of New Times readers believed the autopsy reports should be released.

A concern that's been brought up is that pictures of the dead firefighters might be included in this request for records, and some people apparently fear that someone's going to publish those photos.

However, the Republic says today, "On July 24, The Republic requested all of the sheriff's investigative records and images while recognizing that some pictures could be withheld due to extreme sensitivity for survivors of the fallen firefighters."

The story adds, "The Republic and 12 News said in the filing they were not seeking any personal information, including Social Security numbers, birth dates, pre-existing medical conditions or photographs of human remains."

Then what's to hide?

It's certainly not the first case of stonewalling by officials in this incident, either. As John Dougherty investigated the circumstances of the Hotshots' deaths for New Times, Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo, Mayor Marlin Kuykendall, City Attorney Jon Paladini, and Prescott hotshots boss Darrell Willis either refused or did not respond to requests to be interviewed. Willis instead criticized the New Times story after publication.

Send feedback and tips to the author.
Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley