The Intercept sues Portland for records in Sean Kealiher's unsolved death
An investigative news outlet has gone to court in a bid to compel Portland to produce police records from the unsolved slaying of a prominent protester.
It's another turn of the page in the saga of Sean Kealiher, who was fatally struck by an SUV after an argument escalated outside a lefty bar and hangout just after midnight on Oct. 12, 2019.
His mother is convinced the police have buried the case file because they disagree with Kealiher's defund-the-police politics, though the assigned homicide detective, Scott Broughton, has said in court documents that the investigation remains open and active.
"At this point, I don't expect there to be any justice," Laura Kealiher said. "They hated Sean. They have no reason to go after the man who murdered him."
Journalists with The Intercept, who have published their own deep dive, filed public record requests on the matter this January. Officials returned with a $2,800 bill and said an undisclosed number of documents were exempt from disclosure, per court records.
The online publication has been paying for what remains in $100 installments, but they're hardly satisfied — saying the records consist primarily of hundreds of pages of media inquiries, press releases and screenshots of social media chatter.
Intercept researcher W. Paul Smith then appealed to the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, arguing that public interest favors determining if police have been slow-walking the case. He compares the deadly hit-and-run to the 2020 shooting of Aaron "Jay" Danielson, whose killer was fatally shot by police five days later.
"The difference between Kealiher and Danielson?" wrote Smith. "Kealiher was a prominent left-wing activist who publicly hated the police, whereas Danielson wore a thin-blue line patch and was associated with the right-wing community."
The district attorney said no on April 23.
"Although there is a public interest in how this investigation is being conducted, that interest is outweighed by the need to complete this homicide investigation," wrote D.A. Mike Schmidt.
Now it will be up to a judge to decide, after The Intercept's parent company, First Look Media, filed an injunctive complaint in circuit court on June 16.
"Oregon's public records law is ultimately a disclosure law, not an exemption law," said attorney C. Rian Peck. "But the city was recently exposed as having a dismal public records disclosure rate of less than 10% — the worst rate of any big city in America."
Another twist in the case? Kealiher's mom says she's already solved it.
She said police pulled the surveillance footage from the Bossanova Ballroom and a Franz Bakery near where Kealiher died, and have the license plate of the SUV that was left at the scene.
Laura Kealiher has publicly named two Portland men she believes were in the car. Neither has been charged in the incident, records show, and researcher Smith says the city's lead investigator "berated" the mother for her posts.
For now, Laura Kealiher has pinned her hopes on the lawsuit: "I hope to God they're successful," she said.
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