A Colorado man was cited after more than 200 newspapers were stolen from distribution boxes, stopping people from buying The Ouray County Plaindealer the day it published a front-page story about an investigation into sexual assault at the home of the Ouray city police chief.
The Plaindealer said in a note to readers on Thursday that all of the newspaper’s boxes in the city of Ouray and all but one in the town of Ridgway had been emptied after the weekly newspaper’s latest edition had been distributed.
“Whoever did this does not understand that stealing newspapers doesn’t stop a story,” the note said.
The Plaindealer has been operating since 1877 and reports on news in mountainous Ouray County, which is about 165 miles southwest of Colorado Springs, and has just over 5,000 residents.
The newspaper, which sells for $1, said on Thursday that someone had taken all the newspapers from inside a dozen distribution boxes.
“From what we know so far, it seems this person put in four quarters and took all the papers at these racks,” the newspaper said. “It’s pretty clear that someone didn’t want the community to read the news this week.”
The stolen edition featured a front-page story about the arrests of three people after a 17-year-old girl said she was raped at least three times by two different people at the home of the Ouray police chief in May 2023.
The police chief and others were at the home and asleep during the assaults, the newspaper reported. The chief, Jeff Wood, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.
The three people arrested were 17, 18 and 19 at the time of the assaults, and one of them is the police chief’s stepson, The Plaindealer reported.
The article did not name the accuser, who is now 18, but it included her description of what happened that night, based on information in an arrest affidavit.
The Ouray County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Friday that the suspect in the newspaper theft was “not a member or relative of local law enforcement and not associated with the defendants in the recent reported sexual assault.”
The reported sexual assaults are being investigated by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation “to remove any perception of bias, and to be above reproach,” the sheriff’s office said.
The city of Ouray said in a statement on Thursday that its police department had “not been involved with the investigation” of the sexual assaults and that no personnel investigations were being conducted at the department.
The sheriff’s office did not name the newspaper theft suspect in its statement, but The Plaindealer said the office had cited Paul Choate, 41, on suspicion of petty theft.
Mr. Choate, a local restaurant owner, returned the stolen newspapers to The Plaindealer office on Thursday night with an apology, the newspaper said.
He admitted that he had stolen the newspapers because of the front-page story, The Plaindealer reported. Mr. Choate could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
“The Plaindealer is not disclosing Choate’s relationship to the sexual assault case,” the newspaper said. “The theft was not connected in any way to the three defendants in the case, their families or the Ouray Police Department.”
The Plaindealer said it had reprinted 250 copies of the edition before Mr. Choate returned the newspapers.
After The Plaindealer announced the theft, it said, it received more than $2,000 in donations.