Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 07/12/23: “The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has ordered Allegheny County to provide journalist Brittany Hailer with autopsy records concerning a 63-year-old man who died in custody in 2020.
In a 6-1 decision, the full bench of the Commonwealth Court reversed the trial court’s earlier ruling in favor of Allegheny County’s decision to withhold the records about the death of Daniel Pastorek. The appeals court held that the lower court erred in concluding that the disclosure of autopsy records were restricted to “nongovernmental agencies” conducting formal investigations of insurance claims or “determinations of liability for the death of a decedent.” It also rejected as “absurd” the argument that the autopsy records could be kept secret in Allegheny County because it is classified as a second-class county.
“We are thrilled that the Commonwealth Court ruled in our favor and ordered the county to turn over these autopsy records,” said Sasha Dudding, the E.W. Scripps Legal Fellow at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, who represented Hailer in this case alongside Local Legal Initiative Attorney Paula Knudsen Burke. “This decision isn’t just a win for Brittany Hailer — it’s also an important victory for the public’s right to access information about deaths in custody in Pennsylvania.”