More than 200 copies of a weekly Colorado newspaper, the Ouray County Plaindealer, were stolen, and then returned, on Jan. 18, 2024, after it published a story detailing an alleged rape that occurred inside the home of a local police chief.
“All of our newspaper racks in Ouray and all but one rack in Ridgway were hit by a thief who stole all the newspapers,” Erin McIntyre, co-publisher of the Plaindealer and author of the story, wrote in a statement displayed above the paper’s Jan. 18 e-edition. “It’s pretty clear that someone didn’t want the community to read the news this week.”
The story discussed details of the allegations, including about the three arrested suspects, one of whom is the stepson of the Ouray Police chief.
In the wake of the theft, residents raised over $1,000 to fund any loss in revenue the paper experienced, a portion of which has been donated to a local sexual assault support and advocacy organization.
But in what McIntyre told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker was a “bizarre twist,” a county resident later confessed to the theft and said that he was trying to protect the accuser, not the defendants.
“I want to make it clear my intentions were completely opposite of what has been portrayed in the media,” Paul Choate wrote on his personal Facebook page. “My motivation behind this is to bring to light that no details in any victims statements and interviews should be posted without their consent.”
Choate added, “I realize this [stealing the newspapers] was not the appropriate response.” Upon returning the stolen papers, he says he offered compensation for any revenue the Plaindealer lost as a result.
According to McIntyre, Choate has been issued a court summons for 12 counts of petty theft, one for each newspaper rack he stole from, and may have to pay a $1,200 fine.
The Plaindealer staff is now reconsidering how the story was reported, McIntyre said, explaining that she was communicating with the accuser via a third party, but that the details of the story were never successfully conveyed to the accuser. In a Jan. 25 editorial, the Plaindealer apologized to the victim for any harm caused by its reporting.
“She is pretty angry, and I understand why,” McIntyre told the Tracker. “From now on, I will only communicate directly with her.”
McIntyre added: “We have a duty to report on the serious crimes in this community, even if it’s ugly or horrifying. But we’re also tasked with reporting on it with some sort of sensitivity to the victim or other past victims who may be reading the story. … We’re trying to find that balance.”