Volusia County Attorney's Office denies online media outlet access to autopsy report on murdered Daytona woman

Headline Surfer® alleges legal dept counsel Michael Gray Moore lied, in writing no less, twice on same day re requested document; county's designated public records mgr, Dave Byron, non-responsive

ME autopsy report on murdered Daytona woman / Headline Surfer®DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Headline Surfer® is planning to seek criminal charges against a deputy county attorney alleging he broke Floria public records law by refusing to turn over an autopsy report on a murdered Daytona Beach woman despite the fact it is a public record in the custody and control of Volusia County government.

The internet newspaper plans to inform the elected members of the Volusia County Council in person today of the actions of deputy county attorney Michael Gray Moore, in which he demonstrated a willful and wanton disregard for state public records law and trampling of the first amendment rights of freedom of the press guaranteed by the US Constitution in his official dealings with this online media outlet. Headline Surfer received the autopsy report in spite of the county's refusal from the State Attorney's Office.

Headline Surfer® alleges and asserts that Dave Byron, the county's designated point person for media requests was non-responsive, despite numerous attempts to ciontact him through his office and that of the county manager's office with messages left with secretaries and voice mail messages as well that went unanswered.

Headline Surfer® initially requested the autopsy report for Milena Chiri (murdered April 7 in her Daytona Beach residence allegedly by her husband, Johan Chiri,who has since been indicted on capital murder charges) , as a public records request after attempts to reach him by phone were unsuccessful.

Instead of accommodating the internet newspaper's request, Byron forwarded the email to Moore, who responded in writing via email that Volusia County would not comply with the autopsy report request because it was not a public record because it was part of an active criminal investigation and exempt from being released.

More wrote: Your recent email to Mr. David Byron that requests the autopsy report of Milena Chiri has been forwarded to me for response. Please note that pursuant to section 119.071(2)(c)1., Florida Statutes, the autopsy report is active criminal investigative information and is exempt from the disclosure requirements of section 119.07(1), Florida Statutes. Volusia County appreciates your continued courtesy and interest in its records.

Headline Surfer® then turned to the Office of he Medical Examiner and was told by a staffer there that all media requests for public records have to be requested directly from Dave Byron per Volusia County policy and she refused to release the document, though she conceded the ME's Office provides such records to members of the public without the added step of going to Byron.

Florida's public records statutes do not distinguish between the public and the press and she was reminded of that, but said that was something Headline Surfer® would have to take up with Byron.

Headline Surfer again requested the release of the autopsy report at 3:49 op.m after several calls to the Office of State Attorney Ralph Joseph Larizza went unanswered. The internet newspaper questioned why the Daytona Beach News-Journal received an autopsy report on a South Daytona homicide victim that occurred four moths after the Daytona homicide.

Headline Surfer® went a step further asking not only for the South Daytona autopsy report, in addition to its continued standing request for the Chiri autopsy report, but now also wanted "autopsy reports for all pending (homicide) cases in the 7th judicial circuit.

Here is what More said in a responding e-mail: DBNJ did not obtain Pfifer autopsy report from Volusia County; DBNJ likely received Pfifer autopsy report from SAO or perhaps elsewhere. You might inquire of the PIO for the SAO for the Chiri autopsy report and any other autopsy reports of pending homicide cases.

Moore continued: In response to your request for "autopsy reports for all pending homicide cases in the 7th judicial circuit," please note that pursuant to section 119.071(2)(c)1., Florida Statutes, the autopsy report in any pending criminal case is criminal investigative information and is exempt from the disclosure requirements of section 119.07(1), Florida Statutes. The explanation is there are provisions, see sections 119.011(3)(c)5. and 119.071(2)(h)2.a., Florida Statutes, that allows law enforcement agencies, like the SAO, to exercise discretion and disclose information that a non-law enforcement agency, like the Volusia County Medical Examiner's Office, cannot. The SAO has greater discretion to release records, like autopsy reports, in its custody on a case by case basis. Volusia County appreciates your continued courtesy and interest in its records.

Headline Surfer® discovered later in the day that Spencer Hathaway, the designated public information officer for the State Attorney's Office emailed the Chiri autopsy report to the internet newspaper with the following communication: Please find attached a copy of the ME report on Chiri. Our office just received it yesterday.

Headline Surfer® then wrote to Moore via email that it had in fact was now in receipt of the autopsy of Milena Chiri and then questioned his "veracity."

The internet newspaper stated to Moore with typos fixed in parentheses: You represented to me in writing (flat) out denial of what was, in fact, a public record. You cited an exemption in the Florida Statute to justify that denial. It is my contention that you broke the law and that it was done (with) (willful) intent to deny me what is guaranteed by the Florida State Constitution and Public Records Statutes. And you violated my First (Amendment) rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.

"As a professional courtesy," Headline Surfer® told Moore it was giving him a "head's up" that it was planning to address the situation with the County Council today.

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Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com since 2008. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed close to a hundred award-winning byline stories nearly evenly split in print and digital platforms. Frederick earned his Master of Arts in New Media Journalism with academic honors from Full Sail University in Winter Park in February 2019. He was a metro reporter with the Daytona Beach News-Journal for nearly a decade and then served as a city editor for the Taunton Daily Gazette in Taunton, Mass, while maintaining a residence in Central Florida. Prior to moving to Florida, Frederick was a metro reporter for the Rockland Journal-News in West Nyack, NY, for seven years. Headline Surfer was named the Sunshine State's top internet news site by the Florida Press Club in 2018.