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Local Editorials

Our view: Withholding public information sets a dangerous precedent

Crystal Lake police said two people were slain Aug. 3 in a house at 185 Marian Parkway in the city.

When two people are shot to death in our community, we expect police, prosecutors, judges, dispatchers and the McHenry County Coroner’s Office to be as transparent as possible. Certainly, there are details about investigations that sometimes are withheld to help catch the people responsible.

But a near-blackout on details is excessive. It leaves the public to guess at what happened, why it happened and whether police, other public agencies and elected officials responded appropriately.

Southeast Emergency Communications officials have refused to release 911 calls from the night of the shootings. Police have provided scant details about what happened. A judge has impounded the complaint in the case, and the coroner has refused to identify one of the two people who were killed.

Ryan C. Yarber, 31, who lived in the house, is charged with killing his wife, 31-year-old Allania Yarber, and a 15-year-old girl who has not been identified. Like all people accused of a crime, he is presumed innocent until proved guilty.

The name of an alleged murder victim is information the public has a right to know, and it is time that the second victim is identified.

A Freedom of Information Act request from the Northwest Herald to McHenry County Coroner Anne Majewski was swiftly denied. In her denial, Majewski cited the ongoing police investigation in declining to provide records for public inspection.

In other words, Majewski is claiming that by telling the public who was killed on that night, the police investigation would be jeopardized.

That doesn’t make sense. How could identifying the person killed, the very basis for the crime with which Yarber is charged, jeopardize the investigation?

The real reason that the coroner is not identifying the girl who was killed was because her family asked that she not be identified.

We understand that this must be a time of deep sorrow for the family of the victims. We offer sincere condolences for their loss. This is an event that no one would have wished to occur, in Crystal Lake or anywhere else.

But the newspaper’s job is to inform the community about events that take place here. When members of our community are killed, the public has a right to know. It is a matter of compelling public interest.

Think about it: The first two questions everyone has upon hearing about a homicide are who was killed, and who did it.

The Illinois Attorney General’s FOIA Guide for Law Enforcement is clear on the matter. It states, “When the victim of a crime is deceased, the personal privacy interest of the victim in the disclosure of his or her identity ceases to exist.”

Also, “The right to privacy of a victim’s family does not exempt a report from disclosure in its entirety.” 

If Majewski’s argument is correct, she should be able to withhold the name of practically any homicide victim in the name of protecting the investigation of his or her death.

We strenuously disagree with that. Records of the coroner’s office are presumed open to public inspection, and basic information about the people killed Aug. 3 should be made public. Withholding the information sets a dangerous precedent.

Public officials, including police investigators and elected officials, have a responsibility to inform the public they serve. At a minimum, Majewski, police or someone in our local government needs to identify the member of our community who lost her life Aug. 3. 

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