A mother’s right to know 

Missoula transsexual Jennifer Pate (whose birth name was Buddy Jo Rishel) was found by the side of Pattee Canyon Rd. near Takima Dr. on March 15, 2002. Pate’s death lead Missoula County to conduct a coroner’s inquest on Aug. 13 (see “An unresolved death,” by Mike Keefe-Feldman, Sept. 11, 2003). The coroner’s jury ruled that the two men Pate had been with, Patrick Lawson and Christopher Brown—both of whom originally denied being with Pate before recanting—should not be charged with a crime. In the months since the inquest, mother Renee Pate’s lawyer Eric Rasmusson, has sought investigative case documents from the Missoula County Attorney’s Office to no avail, which has prompted Rasmusson to file a complaint against Missoula County seeking a court ruling “directing Defendants to immediately release all public criminal justice information to Plaintiff or her attorneys.”

The complaint also calls for confidential criminal justice information to be submitted to the court for review, and for Missoula County to pay Rasmusson’s legal fees to pay for the time he’s spent trying to access the documents over the past several months. The filing was made under the Right to Know provision of the Montana State Constitution.

Rasmusson did not wish to discuss the Pate case or the complaint on the record. County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg says his office intends to provide the requested documents. “We haven’t refused to provide this information.We have simply told them that there’s a procedure they need to follow.”

Renee Pate, who is currently being interviewed by a UM documentary filmmaker about her daughter’s life, remains unconvinced that her daughter’s death was an accident, though she does not claim that it was a hate crime, either. Pate is hopeful she’ll get to see police documents that have been withheld from her thus far.

“It’s taking a while, but I feel like the gears are turning,” Pate says.

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