FOIA requests for details of teen’s death denied

FRONT ROYAL – The cause of 17-year-old Sarah Rose Genari’s death is not being revealed publicly by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office or the state Medical Examiner’s office in Manassas. Both agencies recently denied Freedom of Information requests submitted by The Northern Virginia Daily regarding the case. 

According to Sheriff’s Office news releases, Genari’s body was found May 8 after a search of the Granny Smith Road area on Apple Mountain after she was last seen walking away from her home on April 26.

An FOIA request sent Thursday to the Sheriff’s Office that was denied the next day by Maj. Michael Arnold requested the incident report, any other documents related to the case and any alerts sent to other agencies or organizations regarding the case.

Jennifer Starkey, a spokeswoman for the Medical Examiner’s office, said by the phone Thursday that the Sheriff’s Office asked them not to release any information on Genari’s cause of death. Starkey said the only information that could be revealed is that Genari’s body was at the office.

Starkey denied a FOIA request the next day that sought the office’s report regarding Genari’s death.

In denying the request, Arnold cited Virginia Code 2.2-3706 that states records allowed to be released on a discretionary basis include “criminal investigative files, defined as any documents and information, including complaints, court orders, memoranda, notes, diagrams, photographs, maps, correspondence, reports, witness statements, and evidence relating to a criminal investigation or prosecution.”

That section of the code states that the criminal incident report must be released except under special circumstance. Chad Ayers, FOIA Advisory Council attorney, said that such circumstances in which criminal incident reports can be withheld include those that jeopardize an ongoing investigation or prosecution; threaten the safety of an individual; may cause a suspect to flee; or may result in the destruction of evidence.

Arnold specifically noted the portion of the code that allows criminal incident reports to be withheld when the matter is still the subject of an ongoing investigation.

Arnold said Genari’s death was an unattended death and any such incident “is considered a criminal investigation.”

According to the Medical Examiner’s website, the definition of an unattended death varies, but Arnold specifically pointed out that it includes “deaths unattended by a physician.”

Other unattended deaths include those related to trauma, injury, violence or poisoning that are accidents, homicides or suicides; jail deaths; sudden infant deaths; deaths in state hospitals; and more.

“This is an open and active investigation and therefore all records including criminal incident information are exempt from disclosure,” Arnold said.

Ayers noted that as long as the case remains an open investigation, none of the records would be subject to a mandatory release.

A response from the Medical Examiner states that since records generated by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner are prepared by licensed physicians, their release is governed by the Health Records Privacy Act.  Starkey said that “a signed, written release from the legal next of kin or a subpoena is required for reports generated by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.”

Ayers confirmed that “it is pretty clear” that any medical reports can remain confidential.