Full disclosure important in NC State Fair investigation

October 31, 2013 

The way Sheriff Donnie Harrison of Wake County looks at it, he has a job to do with regard to the criminal investigation surrounding a tragic incident involving a State Fair ride that injured five people, three of whom are still hospitalized. The investigation is ongoing, which is why Harrison has taken possession of public records from the state Department of Labor, which is charged with overseeing amusement rides.

Like most law enforcement officials, Harrison is cautious when it comes to disclosing even documents that clearly fall under the definition of public records. But that can result in records being kept confidential when they really shouldn’t be. Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler’s department, which runs the fair, also is involved in the probe of what happened.

One man, Timothy Tutterrow, has been arrested in this episode, charged with three counts of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. Those are most serious charges, which relate to suspicions that for some reason Tutterrow allegedly tampered with the Vortex ride’s safety systems.

Obviously, the rights of the accused have to be protected. The legal system demands it, along with a presumption of innocence. And District Attorney Colon Willoughby doesn’t want to do something that he thinks might jeopardize his role in the case.

Ultimately, however, the public has a right to know what happened, why, and how investigators and prosecutors reached the conclusions they did. Though Harrison might have the records now with no intention of releasing them, they must eventually be released as part of his obligation to the publicas an elected official. The same goes for Willoughby and Troxler.

In the end, public disclosure will serve only to strengthen the credibility of the outcome of the case and the public officials involved in it.

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