A small town Colorado newspaper has hit back at a man who stole all print copies of an edition which featured a story about the alleged rape of a teenage girl, accusing him of harbouring a “grudge” against the publication.
Last week, the Ouray County Plaindealer reported that an unnamed teenage girl was assaulted multiple times during a late-night party at the home of the city’s police chief, alleging that the chief’s stepson and two other people were involved.
The 17-year-old reported that she screamed and fought back against her attackers, but Ouray County Police chief Jeff Wood remained asleep upstairs.
On the day the story hit newsstands, all of the print copies disappeared across the county. Local business owner Paul Choate, 41, later admitted to having taken the newspapers.
The Plaindealer has not disclosed Mr Choate’s relationship to the sexual assault case, but now says it is pursuing charges against him.
In a statement released on Monday, the newspaper said: “We understand the person who took the newspapers was upset about the story on the sexual assault that allegedly happened at the Ouray police chief’s house.
“We want to explain a few things to you, in light of Paul Choate’s recent statements, and to correct some misinformation that is circulating.
“We want to be transparent with you about how and why we reported this story, even if you disagree with our decision to do so.”
According to the Plaindealer, Mr Choate said his actions were motivated by a want to protect the victim in the case and to illustrate that victims’ statements shouldn’t be publicised without their permission.
The outlet claimed that it had spoken to Mr Choate and that their conversations with him “didn’t reflect this mission”. Mr Choate had criticised other stories written about local issues, occasionally becoming angry, it added.
“Simply put, Paul Choate had a grudge against the Plaindealer before we wrote this story. And when we spoke with him about the newspaper theft, he alternated between saying he was sorry and lashing out against us for doing our jobs,” the statement read.
It continued: “We considered not reporting his name, for fear of further harm to those involved in the case.
“But Paul Choate removed that option when he called the largest TV station in Colorado and confessed, and a journalist at that outlet announced he had contacted them and they would report the name after he was cited.
“Paul Choate’s decision to steal the newspapers created a situation where he has caused more harm.”
According to the Plaindealer, as a result of Mr Choate’s actions, the story made nationwide headlines instead of merely reaching the roughly 5,000 people who live in the county.
“If Paul Choate had seemed truly apologetic, we would have not pursued charges. The fact remains – he tried to prevent others from reading a story about a serious crime reported in Ouray County.
“It backfired, and now that story has spread much farther than it would have, had he not tried to suppress the public’s right to know and the freedom of the press.”
In the statement, the Plaindealer added that it had reported the story “because it’s important for the community to understand the severity of the allegations of this crime” and that it was a matter of public interest.
While we scramble to put out the next edition of @ocplaindealer, here's some more information about last week's newspaper thefts, transparency about how and why we reported on the sex assault and some facts to clear up misinformation: https://t.co/tIXdEZUDBg
— Mike Wiggins (@mikewiggins76) January 23, 2024
“Others in the community need to be aware of this crime being reported, and of the details. Those people we need to inform include other potential future victims of sexual assault,” the statement read.
The city of Ouray offered the following comment to The Independent:
“Due to the police chief’s residence being involved in this reported incident, the City has been monitoring the developing case since it was first reported in May of 2023. The investigating agency is the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
“The Ouray Police Department has not been involved in the investigation and limited information has been released by CBI. The City will continue to monitor the released information and provide the support necessary as this case moves through the justice system.
“Currently, no personnel investigations are being conducted in the Ouray Police Department regarding this case.”
The Plaindealer reported that the teen’s case was referred to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation by the Ouray County Sheriff’s Office.