Editorial

Editorial

Prevent death of the public’s right to know

Imagine if government could keep secret how people died.Imagine if the government said it knows best whose cause of death should be public and whose cause of death should be private.
Imagine if government officials are able to provide access to autopsy reports and death investigations only to those they deem have “a need to know.” Fatal child abuse cases, inmate deaths, deaths from mystery illnesses, deaths by law enforcement, or deaths due to governmental negligence could all be hidden from the public.
Yet, this is the plan of the Ventura County supervisors who voted unanimously last month to seek a legislator to introduce a state law to keep circumstances and causes of unexpected deaths under wraps. 
Such a law would create opportunities for abuse, drastically reduce government accountability and result in more deaths if the public were to be kept in the dark about threats to public health or failures to protect lives by government or businesses.
Autopsy reports and death investigations are public records, available to the public and media, ensuring transparency and government accountability. There is a legitimate public interest in knowing how someone died, especially if he or she died in custody or foster care, in a vehicle crash, industrial accident or from a contagious illness. The fact that death records are public has resulted in well-documented public-policy benefits that have prevented other deaths. Fatal vaping, encephalitis and child abuse cases are just a few examples.
We are disturbed by this unanimous vote to cloak truth in permanent secrecy, even after an investigation is completed. There is no public outcry to hide autopsy reports and death investigations. The fact that the proposal comes from top Ventura County officials who have faced unfavorable publicity over the dismissal of a former chief medical examiner is all the more reason to ensure public records remain public.
We urge our county supervisors to rescind their shocking vote to usher in a historic loss of the public’s right to know.
If they do not, we hope no state lawmaker is foolish enough to be used in this manner to create legislation that has so much potential for harm.
Apathy, inaction or lack of information are generally the cause of death of most rights. We still have time to maintain the public’s right to know. 
Ojai’s Supervisor Steve Bennett has announced he is running for state Assembly. He might well be the one to introduce state legislation to keep autopsy reports secret should he be elected. We cannot accept this power transfer and we urge you to tell him to kill the supervisors’ dangerous proposal. We will then gladly report common sense as this idea’s cause of death,
Call him at 805-654-2703; email 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or send a fax to 805-654-2226.