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The Utah Attorney General's Office is asking a judge to reverse an order to release records of an investigation into Beaver County Sheriff Cameron Noel, who is accused of choking a man at a crime scene.
Salt Lake Tribune reporter Nate Carlisle in January requested records related to the criminal investigation, which the Utah attorney general's office is conducting into Noel. Witnesses say Noel was investigating a domestic violence homicide in 2014 when he put his hands around the neck of the suspect's adult son during a confrontation.
The Tribune sought all incoming and outgoing correspondence print and digital about the criminal investigation, and correspondence with Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, who was deputized to consider criminal charges against Noel.
The AG's office refused The Tribune's request, claiming the records were protected because releasing them could interfere with the investigation or deprive "a person of a right to a fair trial or impartial hearing."
The State Records Committee last month found that two of the 11 pages of documents were protected and ordered the AG's office to release the remaining pages to The Tribune.
This week, the AG's office appealed that order to 3rd District Judge Robert Faust, claiming the records are protected and that "various interests and public policies … favor nondisclosure." The complaint does not specify what those interests and policies are.
Rawlings said that there really wasn't a chance to investigate the allegations about Noel's actions.
"Literally within days, if not hours, of the attorney general's office bringing materials to Davis County, the FBI and Department of Justice expressed that they wanted to investigate and assess the case," Rawlings said. "Those entities have been the home of this case for months now."
Tribune Publisher Terry Orme said the newspaper is weighing its options regarding the court appeal.
"It's an important issue," Orme said. "We think the attorney general's office ought to hand over this correspondence. We think the public has a right to know what's going on with the investigation of a Utah police officer."
Utah's police regulators in the office of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), who earlier reviewed the allegations against Noel, determined there wasn't enough evidence to discipline him and closed the case against him. However, Noel faces two civil rights lawsuits connected to the altercation.
Police say Dorothy Louise Searcy, then 45, on May 14, 2014, fatally stabbed her husband, 45-year-old Reginald Searcy, at a motel in Beaver. Dorothy Searcy's son, Timothy Wilson, was in a neighboring room during the stabbing and was handcuffed while officers investigated the scene.
Investigators and witnesses reported that, as Wilson was being led away, he yelled to a deputy to get his mother's medication. Noel told Wilson to "shut up" and get in the car.
Wilson told Noel, "F you, you fat mother," according to a deputy's report.
Noel told POST investigators that he tried to put Wilson in the front seat of a patrol car when Wilson tried to head butt him and bit him on the arm.
A summary by POST investigators states Noel then "put both of his hands on [Wilson's] neck and pushed him back into the seat."
However two deputies reported that they saw Noel put both hands around Wilson's neck. One said he saw Noel "squeeze as hard as he could."
Both of those deputies were fired from the department. One, Steve Kline, pleaded guilty in March to class B misdemeanor wrongful appropriation.
The other, Cody Allen, was fired months after the stabbing over allegations he threatened someone while he was drunk at a Halloween party.
But in a lawsuit filed in May, Allen claims that other deputies behaved worse at the party and weren't fired; he claims he was actually fired for reporting Noel's actions to POST investigators and other law enforcement.
Timothy Wilson also filed a lawsuit against Noel, alleging Noel violated his civil rights. Wilson was on parole for attempted armed robbery in Tennessee and was considered an absconder when he was in Beaver at the time his step-father was stabbed to death. Wilson is now in a prison in Whiteville, Tenn.
Neither the AG's office nor Troy Rawlings has released any findings from the criminal investigation into Noel's alleged actions.
Noel is the son of state Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab.
Searcy was charged with first-degree felony murder for killing her husband, but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of third-degree felony manslaughter. She is serving up to five years in prison.