After refusing to release complete information under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Garland County officials have sought an attorney general’s opinion as to whether tendering incomplete coroner’s reports to the public are sufficient under the law.

Coroners in Garland County are refusing to hand over all information requested pertaining to coroner’s reports. Newspapers around the state are seeking information from coroner’s reports as a way of understanding the Covid-19 Pandemic’s death toll’s impact on Arkansans.

Currently, Madison County has reported only one death due to Covid-19 but more than 400 people have died from the coronavirus in Arkansas.  We have asked Madison County Coroner Doug Rabold for the information but he has stated that he doesn’t have any pertaining to the death in Madison County attributed to Covid-19.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has utilized FOIA to obtain information about deaths relating to the coronavirus and in an article last week reported that it had received more than 300 reports. However, it also noted that at least four county coroners have chosen to provide redacted records, which are records edited in order to obscure or remove information.

We have faced that same situation in our county while trying to obtain the information from county coroner Rabold. On June 26, we tendered a FOIA request to Rabold asking for coroner’s reports for the past 30 days. And we were working with him to provide him more time to answer the request. He submitted four redacted reports to us on July 3.

Even after giving him more time to submit the reports and after following up on the information request several times, we did finally receive redacted information on July 13.  

Rabold tendered the information to us using a different form that he uses to make his official report stating that some of the information we requested had to be redacted. Because we were not able to see the original report, we are left without knowing everything what was redacted. Missing from the reports were the narratives of the deaths. On his official reports, Rabold has a section titled, “Investigator’s Narrative.” That was not included in the reports that were submitted to us.

Rabold said it would take him a while to tender the information because it had to be redacted – a point that is currently being questioned by other news organizations. He also said he was “only one person,” and it would take him more than the three days as required under FOIA to get us the information. 

When Rabold ran for the coroner’s position in 2018, he touted as a qualification that he could be available “in a moment’s notice,” and being available “when needed.”

He also said that he understood “being active in the investigations and the filing of death certificate, as well and other paperwork in a timely manner is crucial.” 

In working with other coroner’s in our area, such as Washington County and Carroll County Coroners’ offices, we were able to obtain the information we requested in a timely manner and even without having to file a FOIA request. 

While The Record has always sought to protect the privacy of individuals according to the laws set forth, we feel it is incumbent on our county officials to tender the requested documents to us in a timely manner and tender the information that the law requires to be released. 

Getting information needed to the public is crucial and even more important during a global health emergency. 


Ellen Kreth is the publisher of The Record. You may email her at ekreth@mcrecordonline.com