The Desha County prosecutor issued a subpoena Friday commanding the county coroner to provide records in court requested under the state public records law six weeks ago by an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter.
The reporter first contacted Coroner Joe Wilkin by phone Sept. 24, and the reporter's first written request was sent to his email address Sept. 26. Since then, phone calls have been made to Wilkin at least 10 times requesting the records under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. A letter was also sent by mail Oct. 5.
The reporter asked for coroner's reports involving the deaths of children from Jan. 1, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2017.
The subpoena, issued by the 10th Judicial District's prosecuting attorney's office, requires Wilkin to appear in court in Dumas at noon Friday. It also states that he must bring copies of all coroner's reports, not just those for children, to the courtroom. The subpoena is signed by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Crews Puryear.
Wilkin's first response to the records request came in the Sept. 24 phone call, when the reporter asked if he would prefer to receive a more formal request by email or letter.
Wilkin said fulfilling the records request would cost the newspaper thousands of dollars so he could hire help to find the documents. The public records law allows officials to charge only for the actual cost of reproducing records, and when the reporter said that, Wilkin denied the request.
The newspaper contacted Prosecuting Attorney Thomas Deen on Oct. 26, after Wilkin said he wasn't going to fulfill the request without word from a prosecutor or the attorney general. The last time the reporter spoke to Wilkin was Thursday after contacting the prosecutor.
"If you want that damn information, you're going to have to get it yourself," Wilkin told the reporter. "I'm not going to do it. I don't care what the prosecutor or anybody says."
He then said the reporter should go to the Health Department for death certificates in lieu of accessing coroner's reports. Death certificates are not public records under state law.
The reporter asked again for access and reminded Wilkin that he was a publicly elected official. Wilkin lost his bid for re-election and will be out of office in January.
"I won't be a public official for long," he responded. "You might as well just leave me alone."
Metro on 11/10/2018
Print Headline: Arkansas coroner subpoenaed, told to produce records sought by newspaper