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The Utah Attorney General's Office on Thursday again argued that records surrounding allegations that Beaver County Sheriff Cameron Noel choked a potential witness following a May 2014 homicide should not be released to The Salt Lake Tribune.
Blaine Ferguson, assistant attorney general, told the Utah Records Committee that documents relating to the immediate aftermath of the homicide of Reginald Searcy, 45, in Beaver were protected because an FBI investigation of Noel was ongoing. Releasing the information could interfere with the two-year-old case, Ferguson said.
"The attorney general's office has demonstrated the [protected] classification is justified," Ferguson said, citing a letter to the committee by FBI Agent Michelle W. Pickins that said releasing the records would "jeopardize the integrity" of the ongoing civil rights investigation of Noel.
Searcy was stabbed to death by his wife, Dorothy Louise Searcy, 44, at Beaver's Country Inn Motel. Her son, then-28-year-old Timothy Scott Wilson, was with his fiancée in a nearby room. When officers arrived, Wilson became agitated, according to documents. After Wilson was placed in handcuffs, according to witness accounts, Noel placed two hands around the man's neck and choked him.
Wilson, who is now in prison on an unrelated matter, has filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court in Utah.
A former deputy, Cody Allen, has filed a lawsuit in state court against Beaver County, alleging that Noel fired him in retaliation for reporting that the sheriff choked Wilson at the homicide scene.
Dorothy Louise Searcy was found guilty of third-degree manslaughter and is serving a 0 to 5-year prison sentence.
One year ago, the records committee ruled in favor of The Tribune in the case based on an appeal by reporter Nate Carlisle. Under the state's open records law, GRAMA, he requested any communication regarding the Noel case. The AG appealed that ruling to 3rd District Court, where it remains.
In a second request the subject of Thursday's hearing Carlisle asked for state investigation records surrounding the choking allegations.
Carlisle told the committee that no charges have been brought in the case. The few witnesses have been accounted for, he said, adding that the requested records would not interfere with the FBI's investigation.
He added that he is not seeking FBI records.
"[Noel's] actions were out in the open in a public scene and he is an elected official," Carlisle said. "We're two years down the line and we have no resolution in this case."
The reporter told the committee that the sheriff is the son of prominent Utah lawmaker Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab. Further, he said, Cameron Noel has since become the Utah Sheriff's Association representative to the state Police Officer Standards and Training (POST), the organization that oversees state law enforcement.
But Ferguson maintained that neither the sheriff's father nor his position at POST should be considered when determining whether records should be released.
He also argued that Carlisle's request could be an invasion of privacy regarding unnamed individuals. He added that Utah law states no documents request should be honored if it is a duplication of an earlier request.
The committee, however, ruled unanimously Thursday that the latest Tribune request is not duplicative of the initial one. But because the records in question were numerous, committee members all voted to review them privately at a later time.
A decision is expected at its May meeting.