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Man cited in Ouray newspaper theft explains motivation

National attention was ‘opposite of my intention,’ Paul Choate said; publishers push back
Ouray County Plaindealer Co-Publisher Mike Wiggins restocks one the newspaper’s distribution racks Friday morning after 12 of them were emptied the night before. (Courtesy of the Ouray County Plaindealer)

A Ridgway man cited Saturday in connection with the theft of over 200 copies of the Ouray County Plaindealer says he stole the newspapers because he felt angry on behalf of the victim of an alleged rape detailed in the paper’s front-page story.

Paul Choate, 41, was cited for petty theft, the Plaindealer reported.

“It was 100% me,” he said in an interview with The Durango Herald on Monday.

He returned the papers to the Plaindealer offices Thursday night with an apology and turned himself in to law enforcement Saturday. Choate said he plans to plead guilty to the charge.

Jan 19, 2024
Hundreds of Ouray newspaper editions covering alleged rape at police chief’s home stolen from racks

The edition in question featured a story detailing allegations of sexual assault made by an unnamed accuser, who was a minor at the time, against three teenage suspects, who were named. One of the suspects, Nathan Dieffenderffer, is the stepson of Ouray Police Chief Jeff Wood.

The headline across the paper’s front page read “Girl: Rapes occurred at chief’s house.”

Theft of the newspapers prompted speculation that Wood, Dieffenderffer or someone related to the three suspects may have been trying to suppress the story. It also sparked national media coverage.

But Choate said he stole the papers out of anger on behalf of the victim’s family, with whom he is close. Neither the accuser nor her family asked him to steal the papers, he said.

“It was a reaction that I shouldn’t have done, and I never would have thought it would bring a spotlight through national news media on it,” he said. “That was quite the opposite of my intention.”

In a message on Facebook posted Monday afternoon, Choate said he was “appalled by the graphic details reported.”

“My motivation behind this is to bring to light that no details in any victims statements and interviews should be posted without their consent,” he wrote.

The story’s author, Plaindealer Co-Publisher Erin McIntyre, drew details of the alleged assault from redacted arrest affidavits for the three men. The victim, now 18, was not named.

“It is the newspaper’s policy to not name sex assault victims unless they agree to be identified or there are unique circumstances where their names were already made public and it cannot be avoided,” she wrote.

Dieffenderffer was days from his 18th birthday and was named in the story, “because of the severity of the allegations.”

The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics directs reporters to show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage and use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles and victims of sex crimes.

McIntyre was not available for comment Monday, but publishers explained the paper’s side of the story in a newsletter to subscribers that evening.

“Prior to publishing the stories on the alleged rape case, we communicated with a person who has been supporting the victim,” they wrote. “She agreed to speak with the victim and provide a copy of the affidavit we received to her, and review the details so the victim would not be surprised by what was coming in the paper. We did this before the story was published. We did not hear anything from the victim before the story was published.”

Choate said he has lived in Ouray County since 2001 and has disagreed with several choices made by the paper’s publishers. McIntyre and her husband, Co-Publisher Mike Wiggins, purchased the Plaindealer in 2019 and make up two-thirds of its full-time staff.

“I feel that there’s been several articles written in this paper that negatively affect local families and businesses,” Choate said. “And I think what I did was kind of … the last straw for me over the years of reading this stuff.”

In the newsletter, Wiggins and McIntyre said Choate expressed similar sentiments in conversations with them, specifically over a story about a business that did not heed public health orders and a former sheriff involved in domestic violence incidents.

“Simply put, Paul Choate had a grudge against the Plaindealer before we wrote this story,” they wrote. “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.”

Although his plan backfired – the Plaindealer reprinted the paper and the story got national play – Choate said he felt his message had been received.

He has been charged with petty theft, but Ouray County Undersheriff Tammy Stroup said it would be up to prosecutors to decide whether to escalate charges. She said they are looking at whether to charge Choate with theft in a series or to seek a civil penalty for the interruption of newspaper distribution, for which he could face up to $2,500 in fines.

Wiggins and McIntyre say they will explain more about the situation and the details they chose to include or omit in a column in this week’s paper.


This story has been updated Jan. 23 at 11:30 a.m. to remove the Herald’s assumption that Choate was friends with the victim’s family.

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