North Dakota AG says Olivia Lone Bear report of death exempt from open records
BISMARCK - The report of death for Olivia Lone Bear is not a public record because it is part of an active investigation, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem wrote in an opinion issued Friday.
Olivia Lone Bear, 32, of New Town, went missing in October 2017 and was found deceased inside a submerged truck pulled from Sanish Bay on Lake Sakakawea on July 31.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs continue to investigate her death, and no additional information has been released since the truck and her body were found.
Matthew Lone Bear, the brother of Olivia Lone Bear, said he and his family have yet to receive her report of death, a one-page document that indicates the cause of death and manner of death.
He said Olivia Lone Bear's father, Texx Lone Bear, has only gotten her death certificate, which lists her cause of death as "undetermined."
"Right now, we're left in the dark," he said Monday, adding that they haven't received any updates on the investigation since late August.
In October, the Tribune requested an opinion from Stenehjem for the availability of Olivia Lone Bear's report of death. The report of death is less detailed than an autopsy report, which is not a public record.
Employees at the University of North Dakota's Department of Pathology, which works with the Grand Forks County Coroner's Office, refused to release the report of death upon request, citing the open investigation.
The report of death becomes a public record eight days after it is finalized. However, Stenehjem wrote in his opinion that the report is exempt to the state open records law if considered "active criminal intelligence and investigative information."
Jack McDonald, an attorney for North Dakota media organizations, said he believes a report of death is a public record, regardless of whether it is part of an investigation. He likened the report to minutes of a government entity, which, if are part of a criminal investigation, would still be public record.
"My only concern is that it allows law enforcement to take what are ordinarily public records and make them private just because they're using them to investigate," he said. "I think it gives them too wide a latitude that's not needed."
Matthew Lone Bear said he and other family members are considering their next options because they "feel like nothing is really happening," in regards to the investigation. He said they may reach out to North Dakota's congressional delegation "to get confirmation" that the case is actively being investigated.