Coroner Must Release Autopsy Report in Police Officer's Shooting Death in Easton, Pennsylvania

A Pennsylvania Grand Jury Ruled Officer Jesse Sollman's Death an Accidental Homicide

A Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling may cast new light on the 2005 shooting death of Easton, Pennsylvania, police officer Jesse Sollman. Sollman's shooting death occurred in the Easton police station armory room while two officers were cleaning weapons.

The ruling reverses a previous Commonwealth Court ruling which affirmed Lehigh Country coroner Scot Grim's position that he was not required to release autopsy records under public information laws, specifically a law referred to as the "Coroner's Act."

Grim was of the opinion that the Coroner's Act did not oblige him to release the autopsy records because they did not fall within the definition of "official records and papers," as the Act describes. The Commonwealth and Superior Courts of Pennsylvania upheld Grimm's view. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed that decision in an opinion issued January 22, 2009.

The PA Supreme Court decision described the facts of the case in its decision:

"Police Officer Jesse Sollman was shot inside the Easton, Northampton County police headquarters on March 25, 2005, and was pronounced dead at St. Luke's Hospital in Lehigh County. Scott Grim, the Coroner of Lehigh County and Appellee herein, conducted an autopsy and prepared an autopsy report reflecting his determination that Officer Sollman's death was a homicide."

Two Northampton County, Pennsylvania newspapers, the Morning Call of Allentown and the Express-Times of Easton, filed a law suit to obtain the record of Sollman's autopsy. The Supreme Court's 5-1 ruling to reverse the previous court opinion is bound to impact other Pennsylvania cases, yet the Supreme Court ruling allows for discretionary withholding, but only by court judges.

While the death of Easton Police Officer Jesse Sollman was ruled a homicide, a grand jury convened to investigate the case concluded that the shooting was accidental. The police officer who shot Jesse Sollman, Matthew Renninger, resigned from the police department in 2006 and was not charged with a crime.

Sources: http://www.courts.state.pa.us/OpPosting/Supreme/out/J-54a&b-2008mo.pdf; http://www.courts.state.pa.us/OpPosting/Supreme/out/J-54a&b-2008codo.pdf

Published by Anthony Ventre

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