Saturday, October 29, 2011

Owasso police won't identify officer being investigated for excessive force or release lapel camera video until query completed

Owasso officials say they won't identify a police officer accused of using excessive force or release lapel camera video of the incident until the investigation is completed, the Owasso Reporter said Thursday.

The 27-year-old suspect has been paid $1,500 to settle the June 30 incident, City Attorney Julie Lombardi confirmed for the newspaper.

The officer had been placed on paid leave during the investigation, Police Chief Dan Yancey told the newspaper.

A 2009 attorney general opinion permits public agencies to keep secret the names of employees placed on paid administrative leave if, under the agency’s personnel policies, that action doesn’t constitute "a 'final' or 'disciplinary' action, nor a 'final disciplinary action resulting in loss of pay, suspension, demotion, or termination.'" (2009 OK AG 33, ¶ 29)

But once the investigation is complete and a final disciplinary action occurs, "the record(s) indicating that action must be available for public inspection and copying," then-Attorney General Drew Edmondson said.

The Oklahoma Open Records Act makes public "any final disciplinary action resulting in loss of pay, suspension, demotion of position, or termination." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24.A(7))

Edmondson noted that the Open Records Act does not mention "administrative leave with pay."

That oversight should be rectified by state legislators next year.

In Owasso, the police department released the incident report, which identifies three officers as having been directly involved in arresting the 27-year-old suspect.

The Owasso Reporter argued that city officials had a responsibility to differentiate between officers under investigation and those who are not.

The newspaper said Yancy indicated that images of the use of force being investigated were captured on at least one of the department’s new lapel cameras that patrol officers wear.

A relative of the suspect complained to the newspaper about the circumstances under which the $1,500 settlement was reached.

Representatives for the city approached the suspect while he was locked up in the Tulsa County Jail on Oct. 9 in connection with a 2010 misdemeanor case that prosecutors are seeking to have a deferred sentence arrangement set aside and punishment imposed, the newspaper was told.

The suspect was without benefit of a lawyer when city officials offered him money to pay court costs and medical expenses in return for signing a release not to sue the city over excessive force used on June 30, the newspaper was told.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.

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